Hal Shevers, founder of Sporty‘s, has no doubt what his mission in life is.
“When I was 25 years old, I thought I was put on this Earth to make every woman happy and burn as much avgas as possible,” he joked Thursday at Sun ‘n Fun. “50 years later, I know my purpose is to get everybody to take their first flying lesson.”
He reported that the Next Step program, which made its debut at last year’s Sun ‘n Fun, is an important part of that mission. With the Next Step program, Sporty’s offers free online private pilot courses to all Young Eagles in an effort to grow the pilot population.
“If there is no freshman class, there can be no graduates,” he said. “I’m extremely happy with what has happened in the last year.”
Also happy is Sporty’s partner in the program, the Experimental Aircraft Association, which launched the Young Eagles program in 1991. Since then, more than 1.5 million kids have had their first Young Eagles flight.
“The invariable question after that first flight from pilots is ‘what’s next?’ said Tom Poberezny, EAA’s chairman and president.
The Next Step program takes the enthusiasm generated by the first flight and leads youngsters to pursue flight training.
“Having young people learn how to fly is important, and it’s important to get them at a young age so they can be part of the flying community for a long time,” Poberezny said.
He noted there’s a feeling among many today that young people are not as passionate about flight.
“I tell you they are,” he said. “It’s just that they have so many things vying for their time. We have to compete for their time, so they have the goal of becoming a pilot and an aircraft owner.”
Another initiative in growing the pilot population is slated for May 15, which is International Learn to Fly Day. There will be events across the country, including Sporty’s, where the event is tied in to the company’s annual fly-in, according to John Zimmerman, vice president of the catalog division.
At the fly-in, the company will give away its sweepstakes plane, a Garmin G-300-equipped Skycatcher. The LSA is Serial #5, Zimmerman noted.