When I was 15 years old I was approximately as smart as a sweet potato. That’s not flattering, but it bears a reasonable resemblance to the truth. What’s worse is that the sweet potato was in general more useful than I was.
You can ask my mom. Even as kind and generous as she is, she’s likely to confirm the above description as bring fairly accurate.
Thankfully, the years have been kind to me. I straightened up, found my calling, and got to be pretty good at telling a story, flying an airplane, and finding people who were willing to pay me to do one or both of those things.
Interestingly enough, everything I’ve done professionally, with real enthusiasm, turns out to be the same things I used to do with great zeal as a hobby.
Never try to squelch a dream, or a genuinely enjoyable activity, enjoyed by others.
If nothing else, it’s bad karma. It’s better to encourage them to continue, to get really good at what they’re playing at. You never know where that particular hobby might lead.
Last week I had the opportunity to help a couple teenagers get a little closer to their dreams. It felt good, too. A week later it still feels good.
If past experience is any indication of future outcomes (and I’m pretty sure it is) I’m going to be pleased with the outcome of that effort for quite some time to come.
It was all happenstance, really. I met Isaiah and his mom at the FBO at my local airport. It was their first visit to a place I spend a fair amount of time. That in and of itself was impressive.
Isaiah wants to be a pilot. He’s decided. So, it seemed reasonable to him to visit the airport to see what he might see, and meet whomever he might meet. As it turns out the two guys he met right off the bat were me, and Alex Vacha, the airport director.
That’s not a bad first day.
His mom is the supportive type. She doesn’t push, but she does encourage. That’s key. And while she admits to knowing very little about aviation as a hobby or a profession, she’s got a knack for gathering information. Isaiah’s going to find that her willingness to share that talent is going to be a real asset to him later on.
Ephraim is a couple months younger than Isaiah. He’s nearly 15 years old. Again, I met Ephraim because his mother is supportive of her son and encourages him to seek out the things he wants in life. She brought him to the hangar my flying club occupies and let her boy hang out with me for an afternoon.
He’s a quiet kid, but he clearly loved the experience.
From where I sit, there’s really only one thing to do when kids that age come out to the airport to see what’s up. I do my best to get them into an airplane to experience general aviation for themselves. First hand. Right up close and personal.
I conduct these first flights more or less the same way every time, with slight variations. Being an old CFI helps, I’m sure.
But the basics are the basics. I set out to teach the Four Fundamentals, let the kid in the left seat do most of the flying, and make sure that when we’re back on solid ground, walking back into the FBO, they realize that they flew — I just helped a bit here and there.
My method is simple. I explain everything. To the point of ridiculousness, I’m sure. But by talking a lot and keeping the atmosphere light and free of criticism, the non-fliers I get to take aloft for the first time come back with a real sense of accomplishment. And why not? They did it. They flew. Generally speaking, they fly pretty darned well, too.
For me this is nothing more than an application of the Law of Primacy. If these first-time fliers come back with a real awareness that they flew, that they liked it, and that they were reasonably good at it, the odds are they’ll retain that sense of “I can do this” far more intensely than they might if they merely sat beside me while I flew the airplane.
My goal is not to show them that I’m a great pilot. Rather my intent is to let them find out for themselves that they have what it takes to be a pilot.
Even on this first ever flight, they have the skills, the intellect, and the awareness of their situation to fly an airplane reasonably well. I just initiate the takeoff roll, then take the airplane back on mid-field downwind. Other than that, my left-seater is in control for the entire flight.
My attitude is very simple and direct: One of us has to fly this airplane, and it ain’t gonna be me.
Do me a favor and invest four minutes of your life to watch this video. The flight with Ephraim was virtually identical to the flight with Isaiah, as it is similar to all the familiarization flights I do with young and old alike who are going up for the first time. And what I do here is nothing special. It’s more or less what you and I did on our first instructional flight. It hooked us. There’s a good chance it’s going to hook them, too.
How do you engage new potential pilots? What’s your method of getting new faces into the FBO, into the airplane, and into the air?
Perhaps if we share our various recipes for success we could all benefit from the compendium of knowledge we would have at our disposal.