Looking for an aviation-oriented way to spend some quality time with your kids? Want to have some fun and learn a few things in the bargain? EAA's Family Flight Camp might be just the thing. AVweb's Rick Durden just got back from a weekend there — here's his report.
November 28, 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.
have a December tradition here in the Pilot's Lounge that some would regard as
overly maudlin or sentimental, but it is our way, and we like it. A significant
number of the folks who fly from our little, virtual airport celebrate the
winter holidays. As a result, we always set aside one evening for folks to bring
in food and drinks and we simply get together for a special time. Instructors
often receive small gifts from their students, folks who have had disagreements
try to patch things up and even the guy who runs the FBO has been observed to
smile. Well, that's what I was told he did; I thought he was in pain.
As the evening spools down there are always a few folks who are reluctant to
leave and break the spell. For those who stay late, Sandy started the tradition
of reading Frederick Forsyth's The Shepherd aloud to us a few years ago.
It is a short book, but quite moving. With the lights turned down, we sit in the
big chairs with a glass of something appropriate and we listen to that wonderful
story of a young pilot on a Christmas Eve. We know it by heart, but we still
quiver at the wondrous ending.
Making A List, Checking It Twice
This time, as Sandy read, I found my mind wandering to a discussion we had
had in the Lounge in the afternoon. A number of the pilots want to share their
love of aviation with their families and were trying to figure out what to give
family members for Hanukah or Christmas this year. Some had gone into the
various aviation catalogues to find gifts. A few were planning to give gift
certificates for introductory flying lessons to their spouse or teenaged
children. Some had found toys they liked for younger children, but the unspoken
dilemma was that they wanted to do something the entire family could enjoy
together. In reality, afternoons out here at the airport hadn't always worked
because one or more of the kids would start the "I'm bored" whine and
things would slide downhill from there.
Old Hack growled something about the touchy-feely generations and announced
that real pilots lived at the airport and to heck with the consequences. In
response, someone asked if Hack had smartened up and was going out every five
years, finding a woman he hated and buying her a house as it would be cheaper
than the alimony he's paying. I had to smile at that, as Hack's inability to
spend time away from the airport had cost him a couple of wives and lots of
EAA's Family Flight Camp
was helping get things ready for the evening's activities but was listening to
the conversation. She looked at me and asked, "Didn't you take your family
to the EAA's Family
Flight Camp in October?"
I admitted I had done so. One of the others didn't know what it was, so I
explained that the EAA had just started a program of weekend "flight
camps" for entire families at its Air Academy on Pioneer Airport at
Oshkosh, Wis., to complement its resident programs which are geared separately
at teenagers and adults. Naturally, I was asked how the family had liked it and
what I thought of it. The only way to respond was to simply point out that we
had had a ball.
EAA's Air Academy Lodge The kids of Family
Flight Camp, October, 1999.
The EAA's Aviation Foundation is aware that only a tiny percentage of people
ever learn to fly. It is determined to increase that percentage, partially by
aiming programs at youngsters to show them the huge diversity of flight and how
exciting it can be through short and longer-term camps. These have been very
successful and have resulted in a large number of camps targeted at kids from
about 12 on up.
This year the EAA's Aviation Foundation decided to try weekend functions
targeted at families. I happened to see some information about it while we were
at Oshkosh for AirVenture '99 and decided to follow up with a phone call. I made
reservations for the second weekend of October. Almost immediately, I received
confirmation material that included arrival directions for aircraft or car, and
telephone numbers to make certain we could reach someone should there be a
We flew in and parked at Basler after looking longingly at the acres of empty
grass where the multitudes will be parking next summer. We wondered if anyone
would complain if we just left the airplane there now to get a good spot.
Everyone at Basler was wonderfully helpful, as usual. [Is there some drug in
Wisconsin water? The people are so incredibly nice without being naïve. It is
such a pleasure to visit the state, and it sets a good tone for a weekend.] The
Basler folks took the phone number I had and called the Family Flight Camp
office which resulted in us being picked up in ten or fifteen minutes.
Home plate for Family Flight Camp is the Air Academy Lodge, a large, Utah ski
lodge-style building behind the EAA Museum, on Pioneer Airport. Drive time from
Basler is short, so I didn't feel too disappointed about not being allowed to
land on Pioneer Airport. When I saw the types of airplanes flying from Pioneer
the next morning, a Ford 4-AT Trimotor, Stinson Reliant and Travel Air biplane,
I realized that a modern spam can such as I fly would have been seriously out of
At the Lodge, Chuck Larsen, the executive director of the Foundation's
Resident Education program, greeted us. I initially thought that someone at his
level in the EAA would simply be there to say hello and turn things over to
underlings. Not so. Chuck was with us the entire weekend, leaving the Lodge to
go home only after each family had turned in for the night and was there the
next morning before we got up. He proved to be a very interesting host, teacher
and raconteur. He is a pilot and an A & P, plus he has extensive experience
Pioneer Airport and the EAA Air Academy Lodge,
as seen from the right seat of EAA's Ford 4AT Trimotor.
We soon discovered that the Lodge has several attractive, functional
bunkrooms on the second floor. Each has four single beds (of varying heights)
that appeared to be much larger than standard. Mine proved to be quite
comfortable. The room reminded me of a well-planned, oversized dorm room. The
bathrooms are "down the hall" and are well designed and very clean.
I've been to too many "family camps" where the facilities are quite
primitive. The EAA does things up very nicely. It supplies linens (although you
make your own bed) and towels. The EAA also recognizes it has to charge
appropriately to keep things up, so the weekend experience certainly isn't
cheap, but it was not nearly as expensive as a family weekend, with meals, at a
decent hotel. I was to discover that the pleasant accommodations were a
reflection of the overall quality of the experience. I certainly felt my family
got its money's worth and more. Cost is according to the number of family
members attending. If one family member is an EAA member, the price is $300 for
one or two people, $400 for three or four people and $50 for each additional
person. Add $50 if no one in the family is an EAA member. That could change with
time, so be sure and check.
Dinner was served in the great room of the Lodge soon after we arrived.
Naturally, as the six families didn't know each other, seating Friday evening
was by family. That changed by Saturday morning with the kids creating a kid's
table where they ate amid great enthusiasm.
The food was outstanding. There were only about three rules that I noticed;
the Lodge personnel serve the first helping, if you want more just walk up and
serve yourself; clear your table yourself; and there is no soda pop in the
Lodge. I liked the third rule. As Chuck pointed out, the kids don't need the
caffeine and sugar and there were plenty of fruit juices and milk available at
Assembling balsa wood, rubber band-powered
After dinner, Chuck spent quite some time talking with the group. I was a
little surprised that there were just six families involved; however, it turned
out to be the right size for what we were to do. Naturally, there was the
talking-about-yourself portion of the post-dinner discussion. It evolved into
one child from each family standing up and introducing his or her family. It
just happened and proved to be a great icebreaker. I was also very surprised to
learn that we were the only family with at least one active pilot. The other
families had heard of the weekend through sources other than the EAA, had kids
that had an interest in aviation and decided this would be fun. One family had
three generations attending. Grandfather had flown B-17s in combat in World War
II but had stopped flying after the war. His grandkids were excited about
flying, but really didn't have much of a clue about what grandpa had done. The
parents of the various families ran the entire gamut of professions, blue collar
to medical doctor. The youngest kid was four. He did just fine. The oldest was
about 13 or 14. He slipped into a leadership role and seemed to enjoy himself.
Interestingly, among the kids, girls outnumbered boys.
Chuck had a number of activities planned for every waking hour and my only
criticism talked a little too much about what we could do rather than just
leaping in and doing things. On Friday evening, we used up a bit too much
daylight talking so we didn't get to do as many of the outside activities as we
Bonding, EAA Style
Chuck took us to the obstacle course area and did some exercises calculated
to get us talking to each other. In one example, he used the kids' natural
enthusiasm to get the parents to talk to each other: He put the kids on a very
large log, then told the parents to stand by their children to catch them if
they fell, otherwise the parents could not do anything at all to help the kids
with the project. Once on the log, the kids were to align themselves by the
first letter of their first names. The kids had to sort out the appropriate
order and then figure out how to pass each other on the log. That communal
exercise had all of us laughing. The kids then had to rearrange by height. I was
interested to see how the kids made a special effort to help the smallest ones.
That also set the tone for the weekend.
Launching a rubber band-powered balsa wood
Eventually, the parents had to stand on the log and arrange themselves by
birth month, so they had to figure out how to pass each other on a log. It is
difficult to not talk to someone as you hang on to him or her and do a mutual
180 to swap positions.
After it got dark, we explored the inside of the Lodge. Just off the great
room is a well-stocked aviation library with both books and videos. I could have
spent the weekend, and the next few weeks right there. All of us were encouraged
to use the library anytime we had free and I noticed it proved to be a popular
spot. I was able to read some books I'd not seen before and I watched some
non-flying folks plug right into the learn-to-fly videos.
The basement is unfinished, an excellent idea. Half is simply open, with room
for kids to run. There was plenty of space for a pool table, ping-pong table and
some exercise equipment. There is a separate room with four computer-based
flight simulators. One was considered off limits as it was set up for some
serious instrument training, but almost all members of all the families used the
rest almost all the time we were in the building.
More rubber band-powered planes.
On rising Saturday morning, we awoke to the sight of tendrils of fog over the
runway at Pioneer airport. The effect was magical. Walking outside and looking
to the northwest through the mist at pilots preparing the antiques for flight in
front of the reproduction hangars caused some of us to wonder what year we had
wandered into. We found ourselves conversing in whispers and a few looked
around, as if expecting "Slim" Lindbergh to wander over to us.
After breakfast, we rode vans to the museum where we used one of the
classrooms to receive a basic discussion on flight. Chuck Larsen had plenty of
toys and a style that kept everyone interested, regardless of one's level of
experience with flying devices. We broke up into groups where we tried to make
hot air balloons out of garbage bags, simple tools and a popcorn popper. Over
the course of the day we made airplane and rocket models. Bob Johnson, a
national champion at radio-controlled model gliders, came in and taught us how
to make a rubber band-powered balsa airplane from scratch. My attempts with
balsa as a kid had not turned out well so I was less than optimistic. But, the
instruction was so good, the individual attention so effective and the available
tools so appropriate that within a couple of hours the kids (actually, all of
us) were outside the museum flying the little airplanes with great success. None
wound up on top of the museum, but the distance and height reached by most
certainly impressed this cynic. (Even the one I was involved with worked well
and it is now at home where we still fly it. It's much more resistant to damage
than I anticipated.)
Bob Johnson with a radio-controlled model
Over the course of Saturday and Sunday we became kids again. We opened
ourselves up to awe and wonderment. We learned that the diamond-shaped kite of
grocery story fame is the least aerodynamic kind in the world. As a result, we
learned what flew well and why kites fly (no, it's not a crude form of
levitation.) We were given a number of kite kits to either assemble on site or
take home. We discussed model rockets. Due to time constraints we didn't get to
build many of the models, but each family left with kits and several motors to
create family projects back home. We received a detailed, personal museum tour
when it was closed to the public. While we couldn't touch the aircraft, we could
"cross the ropes" and get as close as we wanted. We communed with a
homebuilt biplane that had been cut away to show its components. When it came
time to get our wing rib kits, the purpose and function of the rib was very
clear. The kids got to fly a control-line, gas model airplane thoughtfully
provided by volunteer Sean Elliott. That was a big hit and we kept Sean going
until it was well and truly dark.
...Learning Something New About Dad...
Over the course of the weekend, the respect shown to our B-17 pilot by EAA
personnel impressed me. I was very pleased to learn that Chuck Larsen arranged
for the entire, extended family to crawl through a real B-17. That event seemed
to cause a new level of understanding for what the senior male of the family had
done. The thin skin of the fuselage and the fact it would not stop a bullet
astonished his daughter. Until then, she had assumed the fuselage was
bulletproof. Her respect for her father and those who flew and fought in such
vulnerable craft knew no bounds. It seemed to even make an impression on the
...And Converting Fuel Into Noise
Pioneer Airport and the EAA Museum from the
right front seat of a Ford 4AT Trimotor.
One of the highlights of the weekend was a ride in the EAA's Ford 4AT
Trimotor. Steve Lykins, one of the numerous volunteers, herds that ancient
pelican through the sky on weekends. We clanged along at over a hundred decibels
and about 70 knots (he had it pulled back to save fuel) while we discovered what
generations before us learned that the Trimotor is designed for passengers to
enjoy the process of looking out the window. The visibility is fabulous. Seeing
the Wisconsin countryside crawl along from 500 feet while listening to three
R-985s from Pratt and Whitney was to realize that there are times when life is
very, very good. Through sheer luck I got to fly the airplane for a brief time.
The respect that I developed for early pilots and explorers as a result of
cajoling that recalcitrant aeronautical fish to go where I desired was intense.
But, All Good Things Must End
Departing on Sunday afternoon was difficult. We had made new friends, plus we
had bags of stuff to take home to build and read and play with.
As I write this, it's only few hours after my daughter and I assembled some
of the kite kits on a blustery day, went out and had a great time together.
(When I followed up with Chuck Larsen he just chuckled and congratulated me on
doing my take-home assignment.)
If you want to immerse your family in aviation for a weekend, meet some
interesting people in a pleasant locale, supported by first-rate people, include
a visit to EAA's Family Flight Camp on your holiday wish list. Call them up at
920-426-4800 or visit
EAA's web site to reserve a spot.
May your holidays be warm and filled with the people most important to you.
See you next month.