“How can you fly visually, just looking out the window?”
So asked our smart-beyond-his-years 13-year-old friend back home in Virginia. The question really set me off. In his devotion to computer flight sims, he was starting at the top and working his way down! Sure, he could “land” a virtual 757, but was clueless about basic realities.
It seems to me that some bug always bites the teenager at his age. For me, that was when I would commit my life to being a pilot. My Ph.D. childhood buddy, in comparison, summered at a National Audubon Society camp and came back a life-long naturalist and bird watcher.
Good friends Rich and Nathalie are kind to allow young Richmond to be our pseudo-grandchild. He’s smart as a whip. With his Dad a computer networking entrepreneur and Mom a multi-lingual ex-European, he has enjoyed remarkable education and travel at an early age.
Now, he’s really into computer flight simulators. But with all the button pushing, joy-sticking and three-view positional awareness, he only knows flying as a technical exercise. My blood boils. Let’s get this kid to an airport!
My first step was to drop in last month and spread out a sectional chart on the dining room table. We plotted a course, worked simple aviation math, learned VFR dead reckoning and VOR radio navigation. We drew a pencil line course, clapped a protractor on it and learned about variation, deviation and wind correction angle.
The kid was a human computer (as I had been until simple math turned into algebra.) He knew what a reciprocal was. He saw that corrections to the left were subtractions of degrees. He grasped the rough wind triangle I drew and solved the groundspeed problem in his head. All fine signs.
But then, as I pondered aloud what the trip distance might be via a nearby VOR instead of direct, he floored me by working an approximate answer in his head. “Square of that, that and that, blah, blah…” he immediately verbalized, “… ah, 41.2 miles.” Just as off-handedly, he explained, “Pythagorean Theorem. So a+b was….” My head spun!
Richmond’s winning personality and his Dad’s salesmanship often earn Richmond unique learning opportunities. Visiting European relatives this summer, the family talked themselves onto the VIP Ferrari factory tour usually for car owners only. We often get a smart phone photo of Richmond having talked himself into the pits after some car race. Now, he’s getting into DC-3s and negotiating Cirrus rides!
His parents just took him to Dulles Airport’s popular annual “Plane Pull,” where tug-of-war teams compete in towing an empty airliner by hand. The event draws representatives of aviation in all its forms. Richmond ingratiated himself with a Cirrus owner who will now take him flying this fall. He’s also slated for a Young Eagles ride.
The next weekend, he was on to the nearby Leesburg Airport Open House. Richmond met my old friend Ray de Haan at one of Leesburg’s two excellent flight schools. This could be it! Both Aviation Adventures and Dr. Don Robb’s AV-ED school have Redbird simulators with visual, so Richmond can really fly and land something. And there’s a Skycatcher or some other LSA out there just Richmond-sized, I’m sure.
Are there enough young “Richmonds” with an interest in flying — plus the willing parents and available finances? I don’t know. But this particular young man already has all the advantages to do whatever he wants in life. Most gratifying, right now he wants to learn to fly.
Sure, last year it was cars. Next year, who knows? I’m happy to advise and encourage but the decision is his — and his parents. I’ve been frank in discussing both the pluses and the issues, including the number of times my bacon was spared by luck as well as pilot skill. You’ve got to know all the facts.
And you’ve got to take your time. Safe flying requires “seasoning” that comes with years of careful progression through the skills, knowledge and required judgment. Big egos and big wallets can quickly lead to grief. I’ll gently counsel the family on this, if it ever becomes an issue.
Right now, Richmond has the same sparkle in his eyes that I had at 13. I wish I could live it all over. Perhaps I can – vicariously — if our Richmond makes the journey.
© 2014 Drew Steketee All Rights Reserved