Autumn's colors are accompanied by cooler, cleaner air and more enjoyable flying all around. It's a great time to talk about paying your debt to aviation by introducing that kid at the airport fence to aviation the right way. AVweb's Rick Durden tells how. Plus, two aviators who shouldn't be forgotten.
October 4, 1999
|About the Author ...
Rick Durden is a
practicing aviation attorney who holds an ATP Certificate, with a type rating
in the Cessna Citation, and Commercial privileges for gliders, free balloons
and single-engine seaplanes. He is also an instrument and multi-engine flight
instructor. Rick started flying when he was fifteen and became a flight
instructor during his freshman year of college.
He did a little of everything
in aviation to help pay for college and law school including flight
instruction, aerial application, and hauling freight. In the process of trying
to fly every old and interesting airplane he could, Rick has accumulated over
5,400 hours of flying time. In his law practice, Rick regularly represents
pilots, fixed base operators, overhaulers, and manufacturers. Prior to
starting his private practice, he was an attorney for Cessna in Wichita for
He is a regular contributor to Aviation Consumer and AOPA Pilot
and teaches aerobatics in a 7KCAB Citabria in his spare time. Rick makes it
clear he is part owner of a corporation which owns a Piper Aztec because,
having flown virtually every type of piston-engine airplane Cessna
manufactured from 1933 on, as well as all the turboprops and some of the jets,
he cannot bring himself to admit to actually owning a Piper.
been a very satisfying month in the Pilot's Lounge. Summer is spooling down and
the temperatures are dropping, so our airplanes are actually starting to perform
on takeoff. Dave, tail wheel pilot, one of the Lounge regulars, and owner of a
Husky, just passed his check ride for his instrument rating. Doing such a rating
in a tandem, tail wheel airplane takes a little more of "the right
stuff" than most of us have. It is something pretty rare ever since the
University of Illinois stopped using IFR-equipped Aeronca Champs, so Dave's
accomplishment has been the source of some conversation. Everyone here in the
Lounge is very pleased for Dave; me, especially. The fact that he is my brother
has absolutely nothing to do with my objective evaluation of his performance as
outstanding. His instructor, Paul Berge, is no slouch, either. Paul had to use
extra cushions and sometimes hang from the ceiling braces to see the panel over
Dave who is 6'5" tall. Paul is also the new editor of the very fine IFR
The examiner for Dave's check ride, Lowell Weir, is a classic airman of some
repute in Iowa. He now flies jets, but has more tail wheel time than he probably
wants to consider as a result of his many years of flying ag planes, down low,
in the heat. He regularly used narrow, gravel roads as runways because they were
near the fields he was treating and ferry time was lost revenue. He knows tail
I'm told it was a little tough finding an examiner who had the experience to
give a check ride in a tail wheel airplane. Fortunately, Lowell was available. I
also think he kind of enjoyed giving a flight test in something a little
Encouraging The Airport Kids
The airport kids have gone back to school so it's a little easier to rent an
airplane during the week than it was. However, the schedule is stacking up on
evenings and weekends as those determined young pilots are taking advantage of
the good fall weather to try and finish up their ratings. From the perspective
of the Lounge we watch bright, determined men and women as young as 14 walk out
and preflight airplanes carefully. Historically, and currently, any young adult
at an airport between 14 and about 21 is called "kid." Who are we to
buck tradition? We overhear their conversations with instructors. They impress
us with their thoughtful questions. Some of us mutter about earrings in guy's
ears and men wearing jeans in the jailhouse look to expose their underwear, but
we know the pressure to conform at that age and to wear the currently popular
"uniform." Okay. Yes, well, um, er, we have "depantsed" a
few of the guys. I mean, what can you do? The target is just so tempting.
We do wonder how some of the women operate the rudders when wearing the
again-popular platform shoes. Once Doc Walt made a comment about it, but Barb
raised an eyebrow slowly, turned, looked at Doc, then let her eyes work their
way down to his high-heeled, pointy-toed cowboy boots. She then lowered the
eyebrow. The tone of what she didn't say spoke volumes.
Over all, we've kept our mouths shut about the kids' attire. More than a few
of the Lounge regulars learned to fly when they were in their teens and they
were the ones with the go-to-hell clothing styles and odd haircuts that their
elders felt signaled the-end-of-civilization-as-we-know-it.
You're Never Too Young Or Too Old To Learn
We've tried to make the younger pilots as welcome as we know how here in the
Lounge, and it has paid huge dividends. We get the benefit of thought processes
that have not been dulled by repetition of practice and that ask challenging
questions of those with more flying time. We've had to hit the books to answer
some of the questions, so we are learning along with the students. We've noticed
that treating a couple of the hotter-headed kids with respect caused them to
tone down some of their antics around airplanes. The experienced pilots who do
not talk down to the younger pilots find they soon have interested audiences.
Those experienced pilots also report that the give and take in the conversations
results in them learning things as well, confirming that truly good pilots never
know it all and can learn from even the least experienced pilot.
We've also learned something about money and determination from the kids
learning to fly today. Those of us with college-age offspring know full well
that it is impossible for a kid today to pay tuition with a part-time job as
could be done 30 years ago. We know income increases at the bottom end of the
job scale stopped keeping up with tuition increases and the cost of learning to
fly some time ago. Some of us worked minimum wage jobs to pay for flying time
when we were teenagers. Simple economics means it's more difficult now. The
airport kids here in the Lounge are flipping more burgers for more hours for
that hour of dual than we did. Yet they are out here and carefully spending that
money on every hour of flying time they can get.
What we have seen is that these kids are very, very bright and motivated.
They decorate their school notebooks with drawings of airplanes as kids have
done for years. Their conversations among themselves are about sideslips and
takeoff performance and how to get some more flying time, just as it has been
for kids of that age for years, even though their slang is different from that
we are used to hearing. Their presence enriches the Lounge.
We've heard the rhetoric by the politicians who have decided one of the
current ways to get votes is to denigrate public schools. Yet, here in the
Lounge we are flying with those public school kids. In our considered opinions
they are magnificent. (They also show how far out of touch the politicians are.)
The kids now at the airports have come up in a culture that abhors risk. A
culture that encourages them to play simulations on computers instead of having
the guts to go out and do the real thing. Their peers can't understand why they
would do something so "dangerous" as flying. Yet they have the
fortitude to consider those intense societal pressures and come to the airport
anyway. We are very glad they are here.
We are lucky here at the Lounge, because I've seen airports where the
regulars are nothing less than rude to visitors, teenagers in particular. Here,
individual pilots see to it that kids are welcomed and encouraged. Airplane
owners are paying the kids to wash their airplanes, a time-honored tradition.
Then they give the kids a ride and let them fly a bit.
Several pilots are involved in the EAA's Young Eagles program and are
following up by giving the kids information on learning to fly rather than just
providing a ride, a picture and a goodbye. Some are making sure the ones
learning to fly and who don't drive, have rides to the airport. A couple of
pilots here are in the AOPA pilot mentor program and have remarked that it is a
very good way to encourage someone to complete a rating.
Don't Fence Them Out
The fact that there is a fence around the airport bothers a lot of us. It has
made it increasingly difficult for the boy or girl on the bicycle to ride out to
the airport and see airplanes up close and start that life-long attachment so
many of us have. In our reaction to fears of terrorism, we have made many of our
general aviation airports less warm, less welcome to those who want to fly but
aren't sure where to start. The folks who do make it in the door of the FBO to
inquire have to be more determined and somewhat less shy than those who did so
20 years ago.
How Do We Encourage The Kids?
When you started flying there was someone, somewhere along the line, who
helped you in some form. Aviation has been good to you. To put it as plainly as
possible, it is time for you to give something back to aviation. One of the best
ways is to encourage those airport kids who think they want to fly. So, what can
the average pilot do to spread the word about flying? Be friendly to those
sometimes oddly-dressed kids who come to the airport. Show them an airplane.
Answer questions. Direct them to an instructor who can set up an introductory
lesson. Help them take positive steps toward that dream that drew them out in
the first place. After a kid takes a lesson, buy him or her a Coke and talk
flying for a little bit. You can help keep the glow of a good lesson going or
encourage them after a bad one. Every one of us had bad lessons after which we
seriously considered quitting. Helping the kid keep perspective after a crummy
lesson may keep someone from giving up on what could be a life-long love.
Think a little about what you look like to the kid. Do you wear one of those
silly one-piece jumpsuits, you know, the kind that emphasizes your beer gut,
when you go out to fly a Cherokee? Does the jumpsuit have all sorts of patches
and pins and wings on it? Are you carrying a huge bag of "flying
stuff" and gadgets with you to the airplane? Do you realize how foolish you
look? Those outfits scream "dweeb." The kids hear it. It's always been
an axiom in aviation that the pilots with the least experience wear the most
aeronautical junk. Teenagers see right through it. A jumpsuit only looks cool on
a military pilot who is under thirty years of age and in good shape. Remember
when Michael Dukakis was running for president and got a chance to drive an Army
tank? He was a pencil-necked old guy wearing a helmet that only looks good on a
kid. The picture of him wearing a tanker helmet was hilarious and helped him
lose that election. That's what you in your flying get-up and headset look like
to kids coming out to seek adventure in the sky. Don't throw cold water on their
ideals by coming across as an old fart on a second childhood kick.
Amelia Earhart and Howard Hughes set world's records in airplanes and didn't
wear funny outfits when they did so. You don't see the airline pilots who own
airplanes putting on a costume to fly their Bonanzas.
If one of the kids around the airport admires your airplane, talk with him or
her about it as mature, intelligent individuals. Then see about providing a
short ride. Yes, there is a liability risk. That's why you carry insurance (make
sure it does not have a $100,000 per person sublimit). The kids aren't any
different than any other passengers who will probably sue you if you do
something stupid and hurt them. If the kid is under 18, then it doesn't hurt to
make sure his or her parents give permission. So, if you have insurance,
seriously consider giving the ride. I guarantee both of you will learn
Giving A Ride To A Someone New To General Aviation
When you give the ride, keep in mind a few things. Short is very good. Ten
minutes is about right. Don't try to impress the kid with your daring-do. The
absolutely dumbest thing you can do is to yank and bank, do stalls or some
aerobatics when giving a ride to someone who hasn't spent much time in general
aviation airplanes. It is absolutely certain that your passenger will not think
you are some kind of super pilot when you hotdog in the airplane. The person who
foolishly trusted you with his or her life will consider you an idiot. The
moment you scare the kid you almost guarantee he or she will not become a pilot.
You also guarantee your passenger will speak ill about little airplanes
forevermore. In fact, that person may wind up on the city council and be the
vote that shuts down your favorite airport. Weirder things have happened. So,
make the ride smooth, with shallow banks and gentle control inputs. Explain
briefly what you are going to do, why and what those new noises are. Point out
the kid's house, let the kid fly the airplane a little, then come back and land.
The idea is to whet the appetite, not force-feed your passenger.
When you provide a good, short ride, you will help seal the dream that got
the kid out to the airport and increase the determination to become a pilot. Who
knows, you may discover that you have made a long-term friend.
If you know one of the kids learning to fly at your airport, talk with him or
her. (But for crying out loud, don't ever say the kid's instructor is an idiot.)
When you go to a flight breakfast, offer a seat to the kid. Buy his or her
breakfast. After all, he or she is saving every cent to fly. That explains the
skinniness of the airport kids.
You didn't come up in aviation all by yourself. Some folks helped and encouraged
you. It is time for you to return the favor to those who helped you. It is time
for you to pay your debt of honor to aviation. You do that by helping out those
determined young men and women out at the airport who want to learn to fly.
An Event To Attend
We do keep a bulletin board of sorts in the Lounge. Pilots post notes about
upcoming events that may be of interest. I've hit some very pleasant flight
breakfasts because of something I saw on the board. Right now, there is an
announcement on the board that has several of us gearing up to either share
rides or buy cheap airline tickets to Washington, D.C. for a weekend on October
22 and 23, 1999. It is the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the birth of
the incredible airman, Bernt Balchen.
I wrote about Mr. Balchen several months
ago. Let's put it as plainly as
possible: pilots flying airplanes designed and built from about 1938 to the
present do not have to have the skill level nor the cunning and judgment of
those who successfully flew in the first three and one-half decades of flight.
If we are ever to decide who was the best pilot of the first century of flight
it will probably boil down to Bernt Balchen, Jimmy Doolittle, Charles Lindbergh
and a very few others. The men and women who flew some incredibly clumsy,
poorly-handling, unreliable airplanes were the super-heroes of their times. To
then use those airplanes in a scientific fashion to explore the harshest
wilderness on the planet was to accomplish almost unimaginable feats.
Bernt Balchen was the first person to fly as pilot in command of an airplane
over both the South and North Poles. He hand-flew a Fokker Trimotor across the
Atlantic for nearly 40 hours, on instruments, with Richard Byrd in the back and
VFR-only pilot, Bert Acosta, in the left seat. He set up Bluie West Eight, on
the west coast of Greenland, before the U.S. was involved in World War II so
that we would have a refueling spot for ferrying airplanes to Europe. He
created, out of the few resources on hand, a polar rescue unit and actually
landed a very large flying boat, a PBY, on the Greenland icecap, gear up, to
rescue downed American airmen. He then ran the secret airline between Britain
and Sweden to help keep that neutral country from leaning too far toward the
Germans. On the way to and from Sweden with diplomats, ball bearings and escaped
prisoners of war, his airplanes also supplied the Norwegian underground in its
struggle against the shockingly brutal Nazis. The aircrew that carried on some
of the hairiest flying of the war was called the Carpetbaggers. A number of them
will be at the events of the October 22nd weekend. I want to meet them. I'm
planning to go and take my family. In the time between events we are going to
spend a lot of time at the Air and Space Museum.
On top of all of that, Col. C.V. Glines has completed a new biography of
Bernt Balchen. The Smithsonian Institution Press is releasing it in time for the
centennial program. It is possible to obtain an autographed copy.
Here are the details:
- Friday evening, October 22 at 7:00 pm in the Cannon House Office Building,
Caucus Room: a slide presentation and panel discussion on the life of Bernt
Balchen with a number of commentators and Mrs. Bernt (Audrey) Balchen,
followed by a reception. It is a free event.
- Saturday, October 23 at 11:30 am: a graveside memorial service at
Arlington National Cemetery. It is free of charge.
- Saturday, October 23, at 6:30 pm at the Bethesda Naval Center Officers'
Club: Testimonial dinner. It is expected that many who served with Col.
Balchen will be present. Reservations are required and cost is $35 per
- The cost to reserve an autographed copy of the book is $29.95.
- Reservations need to be made by mail to: Carl Jacobsen, 1208 Jackson
Avenue, Takoma Park, MD, 20912-7531. Please indicate the number of dinner
reservations, enclosing payment by check made out to "Sons of Norway,
Washington Lodge" and indicate choice(s) of London broil or Boneless
Breast of Chicken. Please also indicate the number of books you wish to
reserve and enclose payment for those as well. With your reservation be sure
and give your name, address, daytime telephone number and email address.
- The telephone number for questions is 301/445-2993.
I hope I see you there.
In the last month, we lost someone who worked very hard for sport aviation in
the U.S. It may be hard to believe right now, but in the '50s and early '60s the
sport of aerobatics was not popular in the U.S. To a degree, those who engaged
in it were looked down upon as not being serious pilots or unable to discipline
themselves to the "rigors" of flying professionally. Few, if any,
aerobatic airplanes were in production because there was little demand.
After serving as a glider pilot in World War II, Frank Price went into crop
dusting in Texas then started flying air shows on the weekends in a Monocoupe
and later, a Great Lakes. He was determined to attend the world international
aerobatic championships, and did so in 1960 in Brataslava, Czechoslovakia. He
flew his Great Lakes to Idlewild (now JFK) where it was crated and shipped to
Europe. Once assembled, he managed to get permission to fly through the Iron
Curtain to the meet. This was during the show trial of Francis Gary Powers, the
U-2 pilot "shot down" by the Soviets. Americans who were in communist
countries were being jerked around out of general principles; consequently,
Price was a little concerned about what might happen during his visit.
He was the only representative of the United States. He did not win. He
learned a tremendous amount and got to know the members of the international
aviation organizations. He came away determined to make the U.S. competitive in
the international "akro" scene. To this ultimately successful end he
spent a great deal of the rest of his life starting and supporting aerobatic
organizations and sport flying in general.
Frank Price was also one of the few Americans who got his hands on a B
Jungmeister and discovered its amazing abilities. This was the airplane
aerobatic pilots in the '40s, '50s and early '60s lusted after for its light
controls and catlike agility. In Frank Price's hands a Jungmeister could do
double and triple snap rolls at frighteningly low levels. That he often started
and stopped them inverted only added to the amazement felt by those who
understood what there were seeing. The combination of the Texan with the superb
hands and an airplane that seemed to anticipate a pilot's desires lead to some
Frank was in the first group of inductees into the Aerobatics Hall Of Fame at
the EAA Air Adventure Museum. Most appropriate. He will be missed.
See you next month.