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Sky King, Where Are You?

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This weekend is the second International Learn to Fly Day, an effort to find more pilots to add to the long-dwindling ranks. The numbers of general aviation pilots have been in decline for quite a while now, as the younger generations seem more and more distracted by too many other ways to spend their time and money. All the GA advocacy groups worry about it, but I wonder if despite all the things they worry about -- the costs, the safety, the training, the usefulness and high-tech aura of the airplane -- maybe even more important is the inspiration, the drive to fly that turns discouraging obstacles into exciting challenges.

Learn To Fly Day aims to address that by encouraging pilots to share their own passion with someone new, in the hopes that it will be catching. And I think it can be. But that spark needs to find something to catch onto, and I think in many cases that something can be provided by stories that fire our imagination. Older pilots still talk fondly of the old Sky King TV shows about a rancher, his niece Penny and the twin Cessna that turned their lives into an adventure. Others remember the books of Ernest Gann, Antoine St. Exupery, Richard Bach, or Beryl Markham as important factors in their drive to become aviators. I might be wrong, but I doubt that many folks under 40 have even heard of these authors, never mind read their work.

A lucky few have their own family stories about people they've known, or airplane adventures they were involved in growing up. But for people new to aviation -- and that's most people -- that personal connection is missing. Taking part in Learn to Fly Day at your local airport is one way to create those connections. Those who are curious to learn more can find plenty of videos, magazines and websites to feed the need for information about flying. But what about inspiration? That's harder to find, and we need more of it.

Comments (70)

I agree. I'm not even seeing the stray-eyed kids who want to fly because they want to go to Top Gun school anymore (the last military bound student I had wanted to fly P-3s). Anyone underestimating the impact of that movie should meet my daughter. It prompted her to change her major to military history.

So I guess we need another movie, or maybe ax XBox game that you can't complete the final level until you key in a valid private pilot certificate number.

Posted by: Jerry Plante | May 22, 2011 8:29 AM    Report this comment

Where's the Gee Whiz in modern GA? The onerous certification process, which no longer makes any sense at all, has destroyed innovation in General Aviation. (vis Dynon vs. Garmin) The G1000 should have come out ten years earlier to be even remotely cutting edge by the standards of the culture as a whole. Engines? Airframes? Everything is decades old. What should be one of our most vibrant industries is completely atrophied by Government interference. The average GA ramp looks most reminiscent of the '59 Caddies driving around Havana,. Basically, aviation has all the weaknesses of a state-planned economy. Rutan's Boomerang should be available with a solid Diesel and modern avionics for less than two hundred grand. That's what GA might look like without the FAA on it's neck.

Posted by: tod williams | May 22, 2011 3:27 PM    Report this comment

Sky King? Brandishing guns and beating up bad guys is hardly something we are teaching our children these days. Flying is also out-of-favor with social teachings of the day.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | May 22, 2011 5:57 PM    Report this comment

Mark, huh???? Guns and beating up bad guys are all the rage. The war hero video games are selling quite well, same with reality shows such as Ice Pilots and Flying Wild Alaska. I will admit a sky king type show would be kinda cheesy nowdays. We dont have the Cold War anymore, so a Top Gun spinoff might be tough. Perhaps a well done movie about Army helo pilots could be the "Top Gun" for this generation.

Posted by: Josh Johnson | May 22, 2011 8:03 PM    Report this comment

Josh, sure the games are selling well BUT zero-tolerance in schools means that you can no longer carry a pair of toy six-shooters to school for show-and tell nor defend yourself from bullies by a good punch to the jaw. Such as depicted in Sky King is absolutely forbidden for kids these days and would most likely get them arrested!

Flying too is no longer seen as "the right thing to do" in the new ecological, post 9/11, TFR and lawyer-laden society. It's seen as wasteful, selfish, loud, dangerous and instilling terror. Hardly the stuff for kids to boast of to their teachers...

Posted by: Mark Fraser | May 22, 2011 8:59 PM    Report this comment

Well, I had the inspiration too - Sky King, Whirlybirds, Bob Cummings, Mercury/Gemini/Apollo astronauts, along with science fiction heroes like Captain Midnight, Tom Corbett, Tom Swift, Jr., Commando Cody, etc, etc, etc. And the first step for getting started was to learn to fly.

Then I lost my medical in 1990. However, that's another story.

But there's also the matter of how practical it is to learn to fly now. It's not - unless you have more money than I do. So, for most, it remains an unachievable dream.

Right now, AvWeb reports that the cost of av gas is $5.81 per gallon. So the cost of fuel alone, for one hour of flight, far exceeds what I was able to rent a Cessna 150 for when I got my license in 1981 - $25/hr. wet. Or a C-172 for $32/hr.

The sad fact is that, yes, while there are few sources of inspiration compared to the '50's and '60's, what's ignored in the discussion is that the cost of flying has become way too expensive. And, more than any other factor, that is what's keeping new people from getting into the field.

Until the prohibitive cost of operating an aircraft becomes affordable again, any other lamenting about the lack of new pilots is a waste of time.

Posted by: John Leonard | May 23, 2011 5:23 AM    Report this comment

Oh (how could I forget?) - my father flew a B-29 during WW2. That was probably the biggest inspiration of all - to me, at least.

Many of us "baby-boomers" had parents who flew in the war. And many of our inspirations started flying in the war, too.

Most children want to emulate their parents - at least I did. And ours were our WW2 heroes. But today the US Census reports that only 10% of the citizens over 18 are veterans. So, today's generation doesn't even have that going for them.

Posted by: John Leonard | May 23, 2011 6:31 AM    Report this comment

I'm old enough to have a lot of the same menories of Sky King and other shows that highlighted flying. I was finally able to get my pilot's license about 11 years ago. However, my flying is almost done now. In my area, an old 172 now rents for $115 an hour (plus rental insurance). I cannot afford to buy an airplane by myself and others show no interest in forming a club of 2-3 people to buy an airplane. In fact, there are numerous aircraft just sitting in hangers: the owners don't fly them for various reasons and won't discuss letting someone else share the costs. I've asked others about this 'mindset' and they find it hard to explain also. All to often having an interest or 'passion' to learn to fly has to take a back seat to the reality of the cost. In my area a student having to use a 172 for training will spend about $160 an hour for the plane, insurance, instructor, and transportation to the airport. If they are a teenager, that means working somewhere for about 18 hours so they can fly one hour - unless their parents have a lot of money to support this 'passion'. I have seen some sport pilot training in the area, but only 1-2 airports offer any kind of LSA type aircraft for instruction or rent and they typically cost $110 an hour (and this is going to save private flying?)! continued ...

Posted by: Richard Norris | May 23, 2011 6:48 AM    Report this comment

Part Two: I find the latest batch of extreme flying shows interesting, but would they inspire me to learn to fly? Inspiration from a TV show today would work much better if the theme of General Aviation, both on the ground and in the air, was woven into the fabric of the program - a 'real life' example of what GA can and does do for this country every day.

Posted by: Richard Norris | May 23, 2011 6:49 AM    Report this comment

I remember Sky King fondly but much more than that, my inspiration came from an author not mentioned - R. Sidney Bowen and his Dave Dawson War Adventure Series and similar Red Randall war stories. The WWII era pulp fiction novels were my Dad's and I read them over and over till they fell apart. Today at 57 I've recollected both of those complete series and several others. My other inspiration was my High School Band Director who learned to fly on his GI Bill benefits while I was a student. He began one of the first HS aviation courses in Texas and was my first instructor. Dad and my teacher both died in the past year but I celebrate their lives each and every time I fly. Sadly today's young people don't seem to have an imagination and can't relate unless it happens within nano seconds on a video screen.

Posted by: Glen Moyer | May 23, 2011 7:30 AM    Report this comment

The difference now is that flying is no longer EXOTIC nor leading-edge like it was when you could use it as a prop to snaz up an otherwise cheesy western (Sky King). GA flying is now seen just as old and mundane as starting a ranch; it's just not the stuff of inspiration for city kids.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | May 23, 2011 7:49 AM    Report this comment

Have you seen any advertising in mass media about flight. Only articles designed to sell papers..."stall, crash and burn". Enter the tort laws which almost financially ruined most aviation manufacturers and stopped modern technological updating and construction of new aircraft. Everyone that has a problem sues those with the deepest pockets. In the past the aviation industry advertised to the public. The past twenty years any advertising is only in aviation related media. We have almost two generations of kids and parents that only know airplanes crash and burn. It's always been expensive. There have always been those that made it work anyway. Now those same kinds of people don't even know they could.

Posted by: Robert Reser | May 23, 2011 7:52 AM    Report this comment

Mark, personally I have gotten a very warm reception to Young Eagles from several teachers. Last week I took a group of ROTC kids on airplane rides - very positive reports from the kids. If we quit griping and start doing something perhaps we can make some positive changes for GA. Our local conservation club has a shooting sports program at a local high school complete with a firing range. If they could get into the schools, I think we will have a much easier time giving a presentation and getting kids involved. And if you think $5000 - $7000 is expensive, just think about summer camp or a year's college tuition (I've been told that a private certificate scores a year of credit at a very prominent college's aviation program)

Posted by: Josh Johnson | May 23, 2011 7:57 AM    Report this comment

I think you are correct about needing inspriration, but let's be sure it is the right kind. When I read stories either online or in magazines about yet another wealthy person flying his expensive fast aircraft to some expensive, far away place, it has the effect of turning me off aviation, because I know that will not be me. Ever. That's the same reason I don't go into the Cessna/Cirrus/Diamond tents at major fly-ins. I don't want to waste my time with stuff I'll never fly. Meanwhile, in "repressive, socialist" Europe, glider and microlight clubs maintain their membership and keep a surprising amount of younger people (teenagers!) involved in flying. There, the fun and adventure of flying is seasoned with social activities and a "team" spirit. Flying for transportation is not seriously considered - trains and cars are better for that. Consider why there are no major North American glider manufacturers and why nearly all of the initial LSA'a came from Europe - that's where the recreational market is, and that's where it keeps a stable pilot base. We spend too much effort talking about aircraft as transportation. If we focus on the fun and adventure of flight, and support smaller clubs and grass strips, we'll keep more people involved in more accessible aviation. Later, if pilots have the means and desire to advance, then they can move up. But let's stop emphasizing nearly unattainable modes of operation and focus one something more basic, more fun, and more social as well.

Posted by: Scott Thomason | May 23, 2011 7:57 AM    Report this comment

I have flown about 20,000 people over the last 20 years in my TravelAir biplane scenic ride business on Orcas Island and without exception my passengers come back with what we call perma-grins. My oft stated goal before the flight has been to inspire these folks with the beauty of flying. What draws them to my hangar though is curiosity, not inspiration. Perhaps a dozen or so have let me know they were inspired enough to get their licenses, either brand new, or renewed. Those that renewed a lapsed license went back to flying because they remembered how much fun it could be. There is indeed a special magic in an open cockpit painting itself across a beautiful sky but it really takes a deep curiosity to find yourself there,once or 9 thousand times. Each of us is a master of our own destiny, as pilot or passenger in this lifetime. It is the depth of our curiosity about Life that gives us wings.

Posted by: rod MAGNER | May 23, 2011 8:08 AM    Report this comment

Josh, just like a dude ranch, kids enjoy doing odd stuff. I hardly think that anyone believes that we can bring back the American Western to TV. Airplanes are old technology and as "quaint" as riding horses. There is no "cutting edge" in an LSA on a grass strip. There is no future when flying is already reduced to "survival mode" in dinky LSA's and lawnmower engines foraging for car gas...

Posted by: Mark Fraser | May 23, 2011 8:24 AM    Report this comment

It was the mid ‘70’s and we were still engaged in a Cold War with the Soviet Union. I was tasked to fly out of Sigonella as a Patrol Plane Commander (PPC) participating in a NATO exercise conducting Anti-Submarine Warfare. The search began about two hours before sunrise as my Tactical Coordinator (TACCO) directed me with ‘fly to points’ to drop LOFAR buoys in a standard search pattern throughout the exercise area. The acoustic sensor operators watched for any noise, the radar scanned for a periscope as the rest of the waited. The Italian Diesel knew we were looking had gone quiet. Time was running out, if we couldn’t achieve attack criteria within the next hour we would be forced to admit defeat. Silence. The TACCO was frustrated; “Where do YOU think he is?” I looked at the display and pointed the airplane toward the center of the grid. “Drop….now!” The hydrophone deployed, Sensor one announced contact. I initiated a steep bank to the right and dropped down to 500 feet over the surface. The TACCO was back in the game and programed a DIFAR to localize the target. “Contact bearing 090” from S2. We needed a third buoy or another sensor to meet attack criteria for dropping the MK48 torpedo. I descended to 200 feet, pushed the throttles up to close on the best known position and opened the bomb bay doors. “Madman, Madman, Madman!” ...some random thoughts from a lowly, mundane P3 pilot.

Posted by: Dave Fisher | May 23, 2011 8:42 AM    Report this comment

At our Learn to Fly Day, we had a small turnout. Mainly because of the low cloud cover and occasional light mist. But the thing that caught my attention was the shear delight on the faces of the kids when they saw the airplanes. Many of them kicking and screaming when their parents wanted to leave. Maybe Young Eagles is really the ticket. Kids don't worry about bills, getting hurt or the typical things adults conjure up as a deterrent to their dreams. As we well know, once that vision of flight gets embedded in our minds, nothing will stop it from coming into fruition.

Posted by: Jim Smith | May 23, 2011 8:48 AM    Report this comment

Get "Ice Pilots NWT" going in the US.

"The Aviators" is a good idea, but somehow boring.

Posted by: Dan Baier | May 23, 2011 9:09 AM    Report this comment

Mark - I don't think "cutting edge" is what inspires people to flight; for many it's the aesthetic beauty of flight itself. I find that the more enclosed the cockpit and the larger the aircraft, the more of this aesthetic pleasure is dampened. Ehnce the appeal of open-cockpit biplane rides. Let's not disparage "dinky" LSA'a or semi-ultralights (or real ultralights). The more we bad-mouth other forms of aviation and separate ourselves into cliques, the harder it will be to support aviation and keep it from dying out altogether.

Posted by: Scott Thomason | May 23, 2011 9:22 AM    Report this comment

We pilots have a secret that airplanes are "old school" - the general public has no idea. (same with the Space Shuttle, and commercial airliners) Now, many of the rentals I've seen with trashed out interiors and broken plastic would make people think the plane is ancient, but to me it is really unforgivable to offer a basic trainer with a ratted out interior when a new interior is so inexpensive. I've had the crazy idea to take a Cessna 150, put in the fiberglass interior panels, new seat covers, and panel mount a Garmin 696 and offer it as a rental for $70 - $80 an hour burning mogas - the thing would look high-tech with all that color graphic display but it would be cost effective compared to a new light sport. And it would be easy to keep the fiberglass panels clean and free of cracks. I don't understand the logic of putting in IFR certified avionics when 98% of my students stop with private pilot certificates.

Posted by: Josh Johnson | May 23, 2011 9:34 AM    Report this comment

I started flying late in life; I was never one of those airport hanger-outers. But the bug totally bit me. I wouldn't have felt the passion if I hadn't actually done the flying! My point is you don't know what's out there if you don't experience it.

Posted by: lindsay petre | May 23, 2011 9:36 AM    Report this comment

Ms. Grady, I would change your statement:

"But for people new to aviation -- and that's most people -- that personal connection is missing."

to:

But for people new to aviation -- and that's most people -- that discretionary income is missing.

If you're talking about "most people", I'm assuming you mean to include those who live on welfare and food stamps. These people will never be able to realize this dream without some serious external financial support. The problem is not inspiration. The problem is money.

Rather than having "International Learn To Fly Day", I'd be interested to see just how well received the event would be if it was the "International Learn To Fly for FREE Day". If you remove the cost of flying, you'll find a line out the door. Because flying is so expensive, that line remains short to the "other people" who do have the discretionary income to participate. Though inspiration is one aspect, it pales in comparison to the need to have money to pay the flight school, instructor, airplane maintenance, insurance, rent, airport fees, fuel, oil, etc.

Posted by: William Wang | May 23, 2011 9:50 AM    Report this comment

Kids today aren't drawn to airplanes because parents aren't drawn to airplanes. Parents are smart enough to recognize how much income they have, what part of that is discretionary, and what part of that needs to be in the kitty for the college fund...which far exceeds any value a certificate for joy flying can ever provide. A diploma gets you paid. A certificate makes you pay. The logical choice isn't hard to determine.

It's interesting to me that only alphabet organizations like AOPA think cost is not a factor. Clearly, AOPA caters to a group of people that have the money to be able to make that statement. But the rest of us -- and that's most people -- money is an issue.

Posted by: William Wang | May 23, 2011 9:50 AM    Report this comment

Scott, the manufacturers disagree with you. They are all pushing glass panels as a way to attract young pilots. And lets face reality, no one "dreams" of an LSA; they exists only because of cheaper operating costs and/or medical loopholes. Even the aging experimental crowd is giving up on speed and turning to "lesser aircraft" like E-LSA just to survive in flying...

Posted by: Mark Fraser | May 23, 2011 10:00 AM    Report this comment

I started flying in 1971 as a teenager. My parents help support that, otherwise it wouldn't have happened. The GI Bill allowed further ratings to be obtained. Once a family and children were in the picture, it was hard to choose between flying and replacing shoes, etc. I have not flown for about 13 years but yearn to. I have recently been studying, and trying to get into flying again. I should be able to afford it during this time in my life...However, costs are now huge! My son got his ticket, but barely keeps current. I'm afraid of diving in with fuel prices, the cost of a safe airplane, whether renting, buying used, or building a kitplane.

Also, many people nowadays are very familiar with flying commercially, ie airlines. It's no big deal for them. Many in my generation never took a flight until Uncle Sam called. It was something we dreamed of. With all the tech-games, computers, etc., younger folks have been desensitized to adventurous endeavors. of flying takes time to achieve. Flying doesn't offer immediate gratification they are so used to.

Posted by: Al Pitoscia | May 23, 2011 10:19 AM    Report this comment

Mark - I don't think the traditional GA manufacturers (and LSA manufacturers) use glass panesl to attract young pilots. They use them because they offer value - much more utility for about the same price. Even some Ultralight-type aircraft have small GPS and engine monitor glass panels these days. Have you seen a new glider recently? These have some of the same panels, but with soaring-specific software operating them. Again, let's not disparage "lesser" aircraft. "Lesser or "greater" is in the eye of the beholder. Why do you think Cubs and biplanes have maintained such popularity over the years, even before LSA's came about? Because they are fun and offer a great flying experience. My 10 year old son got a ride in a Cub last year and got to reach out and touch a wispy cloud before doing a passable landing on a grass strip. You can't do that in a Cessna 210 or even an RV-8. LSA's and some ultralights are just modern-day versions of what the Cub is used for. However, I do agree that rising costs play the major part of why flying is in decline. If I could afford to fly to get somewhere (transportation), I'd probably have an airplane with more utility, rather than trying to sell my 1/5 share of a C-152.

Posted by: Scott Thomason | May 23, 2011 10:30 AM    Report this comment

We're still selling the "romance" of aviation and we're still selling to ourselves. America's romance with aviation, to the extent it existed, ended at least sixty years ago. For every one of us, diminishing in numbers steadily, there are 600 other Americans and their only interest in general aviation might be for transportation, if we could address our unacceptable fatal accident rate. Cirrus discovered this market and so did DayJet. We can get around cost for these folks if we offered a safe mode of travel that would be a premium product. Some of them might even learn to fly.

Robert Wright

Posted by: Robert Wright | May 23, 2011 10:43 AM    Report this comment

EAA Chapter 96 ran our International Learn to Fly Day event just like a Young Eagles event, only for adults, at KCPM. Our regular monthly meeting, followed by a BBQ and then flying. This allowed us to show folks the homebuilding option by way of projects and completed aircraft in our hangar. We had mostly young adult professionals with financial resources. Everyone had experience riding in airliners, but none had ever been on a small airport nor in or even near GA aircraft. One committed then and there to get his Private this year. Will this "save" GA as we think we know it, no. But I wanted to share our limited success with you.

Posted by: Jim Lo Bue | May 23, 2011 10:46 AM    Report this comment

"My 10 year old son got a ride in a Cub last year and got to reach out and touch a wispy cloud"

As long as you were IFR, that's legal. Also on the legal issue, certified glass panels are more expensive that certified VFR instruments.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | May 23, 2011 10:56 AM    Report this comment

So many insightful comments. Very interesting reading. Sky King was a great inspiration years ago. But those were different times. Today the obstacles for today’s youth to become a pilot come from many sources.

I got my private pilot’s license in 1973 with the goal of becoming an airline pilot. And yes, I was inspired, in part, by watching Sky King. Other inspiration came from knowing a career in aviation would be stable, well paid, and respected. All of those factors are gone today. I was also inspired by my parents, who taught me that lofty goals required hard work, perseverance, and other admirable characteristics.

A computer game related to flying would be today’s equivalent to the old Sky King. As far as flying for a living, ask any airline pilot if they would recommend it as a career for their children and most often you will get a negative reply. Flying is still expensive, but there are ways around that. For under 25K you can buy an old tube and fabric tail dragger that makes an excellent trainer, i.e.; Aeronca, Taylorcraft, Stinson. Of course there are the costs associated with ownership. But it is still cheaper than renting a C172 for a total cost of $160/hour. Not all, but many, young people today have developed an instant gratification mindset. If learning to fly was easy, everyone would be a pilot. The aviation industry should do more to get the word out that, sure learning to fly is challenging, but the reward is more than worth it.

Posted by: Richard Pearson | May 23, 2011 12:13 PM    Report this comment

When Sky King was on our black & white television, my brothers and I watched it faithfully. But that was also less than 30 years after Lindbergh flew the Atlantic, and we had just won WW II largely through the magic of airpower. In fact, CBS-TV used to have a series called "Airpower" that my brothers and I would also watch faithfully.

When I grew up flying had mystique and glamor and was most of all exciting. because of that, I joined the Air Force and became a fighter pilot.

For the vast majority of people, flying no longer means any of those things -- it has become just another tool in people's already busy lives. A tool that is now over-regulated, and controlled more by lawyers and risk assessment managers than by aviators wearing leather jackets and white scarves.

And it's probably not too far in the future when even the Air Force's fighter pilots will have been replaced by unmanned air combat vehicles (UCAVs).

Posted by: Gary Dikkers | May 23, 2011 12:24 PM    Report this comment

What society calls progress in aviation, is probably our own worst enemy, as far as preserving the species (pilots) is concerned. When I was a youngster, in the mid-1950's, I flew, with my family, from NY to MIA, via DC-6. My school chums were in awe and we actually dressed in our best clothing for the trip. When we were in close quarters with the pilots in the terminal, it was like being with rock stars. We were given wings by the flight attendants, were served edible hot food and were even invited into the cockpit. Chesley Sullenberger summed it up best when he said that he and his colleages were once considered a step below astronauts and now are a step above bus drivers. The new rock stars are traders and hedge fund managers (and of course actual rock stars)!

Posted by: Steve Tobias | May 23, 2011 1:28 PM    Report this comment

I own a 1974 Piper Warrior. In 1974 it cost $27,000 new, and the median household income was about $37,000. The cheapest Piper on the market today, the Archer TX, cost over $200,000 and the median household income is $47,000. Enough said. AOPA is clueless, I can't even relate to these people anymore. They have articles like "The Vegas Viper" about some guy dropping $100,000 to update his Comanche. "He went to AOPA Expo a few years ago and sat in our sweepstakes Piper Archer with its shiny glass cockpit and luxurious interior" and "Prior to the 2008 Expo, this 800-hour pilot had made a deposit on an Emivest (Swearingen) SJ30, back when deposits were $25,000 instead of $100,000, but he had withdrawn it when the Emivest company hit financial problems". Are you freakin' kidding me? I make a good living, live modestly, and I'm just barely able to own a $25,000 1974 Warrior, and AOPA has article after article about Meridians, Mirages, guys dropping $100,000 like it was nothing... and we wonder why general aviation is dying?!?! We expect high school kids to come up with $300 for a 2-hour flying lesson? Seriously?

Posted by: Steven Spicer | May 23, 2011 3:09 PM    Report this comment

"Chesley Sullenberger summed it up best when he said that he and his colleagues were once considered a step below astronauts and now are a step above bus drivers."

Airline pilots a step below astronauts? Aren't airline pilots closely akin to bus drivers -- bus drivers in three-dimensions? Those a step below astronauts are experimental test pilots. In fact, some consider test pilots the true elite, and perhaps even a step above astronauts.

Posted by: Gary Dikkers | May 23, 2011 3:57 PM    Report this comment

I am a current student pilot and I can tell you that it was a non-pilot family member that sparked my aviation interest when I was 8. 18 years later... I took my intro flight and have been in training for over 2 years now. Why is it taking so long?... Because I have to save up for 2+ weeks for a 2 hour flight lesson$$$. Cost has been a major factor in the rate that I am completing my training but it is not going to stop me (even if it takes another 2 years).

It is very important to introduce as many children to aviation as possible. I can't wait until I can take my nieces and nephews for a ride and hopefully they will remember it and appreciate it later in life also.

Posted by: Rick Lettow | May 23, 2011 4:02 PM    Report this comment

Rick, I've got a very similar story. I remember taking a ride in a family friend's C210 back when I was 5 or 6 years old. I can remember the airport, the air vents in the ceiling of the 210 (don't know why) and was fascinated by the stack of radios with red led lights. And back when I started flying, I could only afford a lesson every 2 weeks (now own an airplane, pocketful of ratings, over 2200 hours logged)

We shouldn't underestimate the value of giving a little kid an airplane ride - you might just end up with a pilot someday.

Posted by: Josh Johnson | May 23, 2011 4:22 PM    Report this comment

I didn't get my private until age 59 and then only because my wife bought a 1/2 hr. introductory flight/lesson at a silent auction. My father was a pilot in WWII, but didn't continue flying in civilian life because he didn't feel he could afford it. I had previously flown GA twice as a passenger, but didn't really think I had the time or money to do anything with it. I was fortunate in later life to have the financial resources to pursue a license. Now I have a son-in-law with two small children who would love to fly, but can't afford anything beyond a flight simulator on his computer. He flys with me every chance he gets, but can't do anything more than that. I would be interested in working with Young Eagles, but I'm based at a small private airport and the nearest EAA chapter doesn't do Young Eagles, as far as I can tell.

BTW, I bought my plane more for transportion; thus the '74 Cherokee 6. I couldn't afford a new equivalent. I think I would enjoy flying an LSA, but it wouldn't work well for transportation in my situation and I can't afford two planes.

Posted by: John Worsley | May 23, 2011 5:50 PM    Report this comment

In 1970 C150s rented for about $5/hr and CFIs for about $4/hr. My Private ticket cost me $837 including headset and all pilot supplies needed. I paid $50 for the checkride and the knowledge test was free. Now, all is 10 times the 1970 prices and climbing while medium income has increased 5 times that of 1970. It can be said that flying is expensive, so there is less flying for some, however it takes the same 40 hours of training to qualify but some aircraft are more "Technically Advanced" so they may take more hours to become proficient before students qualify for a checkride, thus, it is even more expensive. As a result, in 1970 there were 800,000+ active pilots and today the total count is about 600,000 and descending. It is not a CFI induced problem, as some are claiming, it is an economic problem. Sky King does not get around much anymore.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | May 24, 2011 9:29 AM    Report this comment

Rick, You missed the point...go back to the days of low frequency radio ranges, where an instument approach was more like art, played through one's headset, sometimes punctuated by lightening induced static. According to Robert Buck (Weather Flying), the minimums at EWK were 200' and a 1/2 mile as far back as 1937! I once had the good fortune of trying out a genuine, war surplus Link trainer that had fallen into the hands of a former contract instructor of WW2 trainees. To this day, I can't imagine how anyone could make sense of all of the dots and dashes in a dark cockpit, being buffeted by turbulence and pelted by rain or worse! Many of today's new instrument pilots would freak out dealing with an NDB approach! And hand flying...forget it! In the world that existed before automation and fly by wire, commercial pilots were held in very high esteem. Some of the guys that hung out at our local little airport, in their well worn leather jackets, flew Connies to Frankfort, or other far away places for their day jobs. Some, born years before Lindbergh flew the Atlantic, had started out their careers when the DC-3 was king and now were flying jets. As far as I was concerned, these guys could walk on water! They had the "right stuff". Even today, the right stuff is still needed when things go wrong, all of the automation turns to crap, and decisions have to be made. Sully, thank God, had the right stuff, but the Colgan crew that went down in Buffalo, did not!

Posted by: Steve Tobias | May 24, 2011 9:32 AM    Report this comment

SORRY, The above was in answer to Gary!

Posted by: Steve Tobias | May 24, 2011 9:39 AM    Report this comment

Steve, well stated. Progress has eliminated "the need" for individual skills. Now with synthetic vision (GPS + gyro + flightSim on an iPad) a 20 hour student can land successfully in zero-zero. That's great! It also means that unique super-honed skills are not needed. Heck, with the the serial port driving the autopilot, the requires skills for landing zero-zero reduce to pulling the throttle 2/3rds of the way out...

So yea, I dearly admire WWII carrier pilots flying in all weather and navigating back to a moving tiny deck with little more than a wet compass. Those were pilots!

Posted by: Mark Fraser | May 24, 2011 10:14 AM    Report this comment

Where's the Gee Whiz in modern GA? The onerous certification process, which no longer makes any sense at all, has destroyed innovation in General Aviation. (vis Dynon vs. Garmin) The G1000 should have come out ten years earlier to be even remotely cutting edge by the standards of the culture as a whole. Engines? Airframes? Everything is decades old. What should be one of our most vibrant industries is completely atrophied by Government interference. The average GA ramp looks most reminiscent of the '59 Caddies driving around Havana,. Basically, aviation has all the weaknesses of a state-planned economy. Rutan's Boomerang should be available with a solid Diesel and modern avionics for less than two hundred grand. That's what GA might look like without the FAA on it's neck.

Well said Tod, plus our society is very risk averse today and flying is somewhat risky. Better to be safe and die in bed.

Posted by: Roy Zesch | May 25, 2011 7:06 AM    Report this comment

I wasn't old enough to watch the Sky King episodes. (I was barely born when astronauts landed on the moon!) However, I have always been naturally interested in aviation, space exploration, electronics, and other science and technology. I cringe every day when I look at the supposed 'Science and Technology' news. You see Jobs, Zuckerberg, and PS3. The last launch of the space shuttle program barely made a headline! We need to get some co-ownership in those airplanes that are dry-rotting in their hangars. That makes them easier to afford. Let's show kids that there is something else besides Facebook and video games. Yes there are risks in GA, but you have to choose your battles with good decision making. We might not turn kids into the next airline pilot, but we might get them interested in other aspects of science and technology. And that is desperately needed here in the US today.

Posted by: Steve Bowling | May 25, 2011 9:09 AM    Report this comment

Roy, Airplanes matured like cars, boats, or any other 20th century conveyance. They reached a point of maturity where "innovation" becomes impossible. Once a product matures, the cost to introduce changes is larger than any benefit. Diesels and props are not "innovation" at all, that's just more of the same but wrapped in plastic.

Sorry, but GA can't be cutting edge. It's edges are well explored and mapped. The only "WOW" or "Gee Whiz" in aviation is relegated to the price tag.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | May 25, 2011 9:19 AM    Report this comment

When I was a docent at the VA Aviation Museum a number of years ago a lot of kids asked me "What does it cost to learn?" My answer usually surprised them. "It costs the same as it did when I got my private ticket back in 1946. All you got!" No designer shoes, no laptop, no iPod, no iPad, no expensive bike,no $5 coffee, etc. Just take all the money you can gather, go to the airport regularly (and not in a great car), and spend that money at the airport. You will learn. But where now is the urge, the drive. Sadly it seems to be missing. Sad, sad. sad.

Posted by: Arthur Wiggins | May 25, 2011 10:43 AM    Report this comment

I'm not sure where the idea that GPS and other advances makes pilots less "skilled" comes from. To be proficient with your GPS, autopilot, or other avionics requires a great deal of practice and skill. Old time nav/coms worked basically the same, and once you've learned one, you've learned them all. I guess, the "direct-to" crowd who've forgotten how to use a sectional could be relegated to the "wannabe pilot" crowd. Personally, I expect an experienced IFR pilot in a "technically advanced aircraft" to be able to use 90% or more of the features in his aircraft - and to be able to detect and manage the failure when all the automation goes to pot. That is the sign of a true pilot.

Posted by: Josh Johnson | May 25, 2011 11:54 AM    Report this comment

Josh, I forgot to mention that I like your C150 idea. Nobody will have a clue how old the airframe is, but it had better look nice on the outside and smell like leather interior on the inside! You could even put in a simple glass panel or a nice moving map display if you want. But I agree that you need to teach folks what that paper sectional is used for when all the bits and bytes go dark....

Posted by: Steve Bowling | May 25, 2011 1:14 PM    Report this comment

Josh Johnson nails it when he talks about"many of the rentals I've seen with trashed out interiors and broken plastic would make people think the plane is ancient, but to me it is really unforgivable to offer a basic trainer with a ratted out interior when a new interior is so inexpensive."

When it came time for me to learn to fly I went to all the local schools and found much of the rental fleet to be in the same tired condition. I wound up at a school that had the newer Diamond A1's as trainers.

We really need to rethink the whole flight school training regiment and get the costs down and training modernized. The average college kid drives a fairly modern car, is technically savvy, and is not impressed with clapped out trainers. I recently saw a completely refurbished 152 that looked so new I thought it was a new Skycatcher. You can train with older aircraft that have been reworked and look nice.

Great idea Josh.

Posted by: Ric Lee | May 25, 2011 1:35 PM    Report this comment

I looked in my local area for trainers, only to find mostly worn out Warriors. I wouldn't think of taking my wife in one of those. How much would it cost to refurb a C150 or Warrior with leather and glass?

Posted by: Dave Fisher | May 25, 2011 1:57 PM    Report this comment

"The average college kid drives a fairly modern car, is technically savvy"

The average college kid lacks experience and wisdom to know WHY magneto and carburetors are superior in an aircraft application. They are clueless why O2 sensors won't work with AvGas or why methanol in aircraft is bad. They have no idea why a slow slow(2700rpm red line)works out best.

The biggest hurdle for kids is still getting them over the know-it-all phase ind into a learning phase.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | May 25, 2011 2:01 PM    Report this comment

Interior seat kits from Airtex are about $400 for a 150, I'd say you could get a nice interior refurbishment on a C150 for $2000 parts cost and some sweat equity. If the plastic's ugly but not cracked too bad, it can be painted and makes a huge difference for $20 in paint. To put in a full glass cockpit would be prohibitive, but why not keep the steam gauges and put a Garmin 696 in a panel dock for a couple thousand (I mean, heck, it's what the Skycatcher's avionics are based upon)

As for the know-it-all phase, I've taught kids to fly, and I've found that you just let them get in a little over their heads if they're know it alls. I once had a student who was hell bent on doing his cross country on a day I knew was marginal. I told him we'd make it a dual cross country instead. Once the clouds had beat him down to 500 feet and 3 miles viz he took me seriously on the weather. It's a fine line between scaring the crap out of them till they won't come back and just earning some respect, but I've never had one that didn't learn that respect in 10 hours or so - it usually happens much, much sooner. When a student realizes that they absolutely are physically unable to control the aircraft themselves (regardless of the amount of flight sim time they have) and need your help, you've got their respect. The way to keep it is to treat them as you would any other adult student.

Posted by: Josh Johnson | May 25, 2011 2:15 PM    Report this comment

Incidentally, in response to Dan Baier, "Ice Pilots" is running on PBS stations her (NC). I have seen 4 of the first season's episodes so far. I watched all the "Flying Wild Alaska" series. A little over-dramatized, but interesting.

Posted by: John Worsley | May 25, 2011 4:45 PM    Report this comment

I've heard complaints from "smart kids" that we need EFI. My guess is that such kids have never built and installed an EFI system even on their cars, much less in an aircraft. There is a really GOOD reason why things are the way that they are. Cars and aircraft are entirely different applications[ tech savvy kids seem to miss that salient point...

Posted by: Mark Fraser | May 25, 2011 9:21 PM    Report this comment

I, too, learned to fly in 1970 for somewhere in the neighborhood of $800. That was a lot of money for those days...just about the cost of a nice, low mileage used car. I chose to learn to fly at 17 instead of buying that first car, as so many of my contemporaries were doing. Most of those cars have long since rusted away, while my certificate is still very much intact. And guess what...a private pilot ticket still goes for about the cost of a good used car!!! It's all about choices!

Posted by: John Swain | May 26, 2011 4:43 AM    Report this comment

Getting kids into aviation, while a challenge, is not the hardest challenge. Keeping them in aviation once real life starts to impact them is a greater challenge. Expecting the usual 25-year hiatus in aviation due to education costs, raising a family, etc. is not a good way to grow what is essentially a recreational activity for most of us. The facts are that if you want a larger pilot population, you need to get more entrants from the middle-middle class. We are beset by challenges of saving for medical care, retirement, paying college loans, raising children, and often not having a family that loves flying enough to make the necessary sacrifices. Scraping together $100 once or twice a month to do and hour's touch and go's in the pattern or only fly to another airport is not a good way to maintain excitement about flying. But that's the reality for most of us. What I've been trying to say that if we focused more on the lighter end of aviation, just to keep people flying and ejoying the experience, this might serve to keep more people flying (and no more disparagment from you, Mark). Focusing on transportation for these people is incorrect, most of the time, IMHO.

Posted by: Scott Thomason | May 26, 2011 9:21 AM    Report this comment

"And guess what...a private pilot ticket still goes for about the cost of a good used car!!! It's all about choices!"

I understand where you're coming from. But. A car will get you places on a day to day basis and allow you to do fundamental stuff like getting to work, food shopping, etc. Oh, and that used car will probably be the vehicle that gets the student to the airport and carry all their books and gear. And, it helps with picking up your date at their door. ;-)

No matter how you slice it, people at the basic level, do not need a pilot certificate. In most places in this country, people need a car to get to work or go food shopping. When your discretionary income affords you a car vs. a pilot certificate, it's not really a choice. Frankly, the value of a car or other tech toys (X-Box, iPad, etc.) goes a long way for the value of the dollar. A private pilot certificate is an extracurricular activity that allows you to burn expensive fuel in the air for a very short period of time. For the same money, one can buy a tech toy that will last at least a year. So yes, it is about choices.

It would be awesome (maybe not) if everyone bought planes instead of cars, got their pilot's certificate instead of driver's license. But the reality is, less than 1% of the population in this country are pilots, and have been for a very long time. Learning to fly is simply not in the cards for 99% of the population.

Posted by: William Wang | May 26, 2011 9:22 AM    Report this comment

"Keeping them in aviation once real life starts to impact them is a greater challenge."

In keeping with the topic of inspiration, inspiration only goes so far. The romantic "Sky King" or "Top Gun" are enough to get kids interested BUT I'd submit that a lot of the problem in keeping them is that the myth does not measure up with reality of the work involved in getting and keeping a rating.

True, the cost of life makes it hard to keep flying, but the FAA, TFR's, TSA, BFR's, etc are equally stifling. The question of "is it worth it" also applies to all the BS you have to comply with just to get in a hour of flying....

Posted by: Mark Fraser | May 26, 2011 9:38 AM    Report this comment

It's good to see some optimism. Over on the 100LL forum GA is depicted as the bane of society robbing the others of quiet skies and all that real estate airports consume. The feds are busy plowing up airstrips in national forests and wilderness areas, reserving aviation for themselves when they want to get somewhere. It sends a message, and it isn't a nice one.

Posted by: tom connor | May 26, 2011 2:59 PM    Report this comment

I grew up at the airport. One of my greatest disappointments was learning that Sky King was not REALLY a pilot. My dad had to go pick him up in a C310 at CVG and let him sit in the left seat as he "flew" into LUK. Oh well, I am joining the ranks of the 1970s teenaged pilot peers posters here...gee it was great then. I did fly for a living as a CFI and racked up lots of hours, but I have bee out of the sky WAY too long. I plan to get current this summer...wish me luck everyone!

Posted by: Cathy Babis | May 27, 2011 8:32 AM    Report this comment

Ms. Babis, if you don't mind me asking, why did you stop flying?

Posted by: William Wang | May 27, 2011 9:02 AM    Report this comment

OK, who said Sky King was not a pilot???

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | May 27, 2011 9:06 AM    Report this comment

Enough BS: I'm taking three neighbor kids for a flight over Glacier Park this afternoon.

Posted by: tom connor | May 27, 2011 11:24 AM    Report this comment

William Wang: Single parenthood and a completely deadbeat and absent ex. A CFI's schedule does not fit that paradigm.

Posted by: Cathy Babis | May 27, 2011 11:34 PM    Report this comment

According to Grant Kirby's bio (the actor who played rancher Schuyler "Sky" King), he got his pilot's certificate in 1929 and it was active until he lost it due to medical reasons in 1978. His bio also said he died in a car crash en route to Cape Cape Canaveral to watch a space shuttle launch, where he was also to be honored by the astronauts for the inspiration he had provided many of them.

"According to Grant's son, Kirby Grant III, his father was a pilot and he flew with him many times. He was turned down for pilot training during World War II because of color blindness. In the article "310 B Goes To Hollywood," Bill Fergusson, the show's usual stunt pilot on loan from the Cessna Corp. recalled how Grant flew the 310B like a professional. According to Gloria Winters, Grant was a pilot, and started his flying career in a 1929 Waco. It has been reported that Kirby Grant's pilot's license was issued in 1929 and expired in 1978 for medical reasons. There are many anecdotal reports of Grant flying airplanes at air shows."

Posted by: Gary Dikkers | May 28, 2011 9:59 PM    Report this comment

I was interested as a kid in the 60s from the same shows others mentioned.. What really got me hooked, was a ride in a Super Cub when I was about 8 or 9. Didn't really have the money to pursue seriously till I was in my mid 30s. That was in the late 80s with GA in the liability decline with NO new trainers. I remember almost being turned off even back then by not only the clapped out trainers, but by the antiquated engine management. I got my license in 1990 and didn't do a whole lot of flying. Ten years later I decided to get back into it and thought getting an Instrument rating made a lot of sense and I trained in new 182s and SR20s. Great avionics and cosmetics, but still the same antiquated power management except that Cirrus had "automatic" prop control. There are a lot of pilots who don't think we need one lever power control, but I suspect there are are many students who get to a first lesson and who don't go much further after being put off but the outdated engine controls.

Posted by: Dennis Callahan | May 31, 2011 1:55 PM    Report this comment

I've been interested in flying since middle school - I'm 30 now and am in the process of learning (all be it slowly). The one cost alot of people don't think about is life/disability insurance, most policies have a GA clause that limits or revolks the policy in the event of a crash in a non scheduled airline. You have to add a rider to most policies (or I guess buy one through AOPA,EAA or something).

Here is something that the groups could legitimatly effect in the cost of learning to fly, by making it so the policies can't exclude GA accidents.

I'm probably one of the few that has looked at this but I have a kid on the way so I was crossing my T's and dotting my I's so to speak incase something happens.

Also only people already interested in learning to fly goes to these events and airshows, to attract someone that has never really considered it you need to have off airport events. Town fairs, car shows, "Geek" conventions (CES,Dragoncon,etc) people who love technology but don't think about learning to fly.

Posted by: Joseph Chambers | June 1, 2011 12:27 PM    Report this comment

For anyone so inclined, here's a source of the complete 72 episode series of Sky King on 18 DVDs, a buck a disk: Mrjim*xroo.com. Replace the asterisk with an 'at sign'(@) to make it work.

Posted by: tom connor | June 1, 2011 1:24 PM    Report this comment

Gary Dikkers: I am sure you are correct. My memories are from what my dad told me a long time ago. Thanks for the official details. It's good to be wrong.

Posted by: Cathy Babis | June 2, 2011 1:36 AM    Report this comment

Cathy Babis - sorry to hear that. Glad you're getting your flight feathers back!

Joseph Chambers - you just mentioned a couple of issues that have gone quietly ignored in aviation. I agree that we are all advertising to the same 10 people with 9 of them already pilots year-over-year. There are "hidden" costs to being a pilot like the life insurance policy cost increase. You won't find anyone talking about it because it discourages people from becoming pilots. It an obscuration that really should be more openly discussed.

Posted by: William Wang | June 2, 2011 11:02 AM    Report this comment

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