The Pilot’s Lounge #16:
An Aviation Gift for Your Family

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.


The Pilots LoungeWehave a December tradition here in the Pilot’s Lounge that some would regard asoverly maudlin or sentimental, but it is our way, and we like it. A significantnumber of the folks who fly from our little, virtual airport celebrate thewinter holidays. As a result, we always set aside one evening for folks to bringin food and drinks and we simply get together for a special time. Instructorsoften receive small gifts from their students, folks who have had disagreementstry to patch things up and even the guy who runs the FBO has been observed tosmile. 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 toleave and break the spell. For those who stay late, Sandy started the traditionof 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 thebig chairs with a glass of something appropriate and we listen to that wonderfulstory of a young pilot on a Christmas Eve. We know it by heart, but we stillquiver at the wondrous ending.

Making A List, Checking It Twice

This time, as Sandy read, I found my mind wandering to a discussion we hadhad in the Lounge in the afternoon. A number of the pilots want to share theirlove of aviation with their families and were trying to figure out what to givefamily members for Hanukah or Christmas this year. Some had gone into thevarious aviation catalogues to find gifts. A few were planning to give giftcertificates for introductory flying lessons to their spouse or teenagedchildren. Some had found toys they liked for younger children, but the unspokendilemma was that they wanted to do something the entire family could enjoytogether. In reality, afternoons out here at the airport hadn’t always workedbecause one or more of the kids would start the “I’m bored” whine andthings would slide downhill from there.

Old Hack growled something about the touchy-feely generations and announcedthat real pilots lived at the airport and to heck with the consequences. Inresponse, someone asked if Hack had smartened up and was going out every fiveyears, finding a woman he hated and buying her a house as it would be cheaperthan the alimony he’s paying. I had to smile at that, as Hack’s inability tospend time away from the airport had cost him a couple of wives and lots ofmoney.

EAA’s Family Flight Camp

EAA logoSandywas helping get things ready for the evening’s activities but was listening tothe conversation. She looked at me and asked, “Didn’t you take your familyto the EAA’s FamilyFlight Camp in October?”

I admitted I had done so. One of the others didn’t know what it was, so Iexplained that the EAA had just started a program of weekend “flightcamps” for entire families at its Air Academy on Pioneer Airport atOshkosh, Wis., to complement its resident programs which are geared separatelyat teenagers and adults. Naturally, I was asked how the family had liked it andwhat I thought of it. The only way to respond was to simply point out that wehad had a ball.

The Concept…

EAA's Air Academy Lodge - The kids of Family Flight Camp, October, 1999.
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 peopleever learn to fly. It is determined to increase that percentage, partially byaiming programs at youngsters to show them the huge diversity of flight and howexciting it can be through short and longer-term camps. These have been verysuccessful and have resulted in a large number of camps targeted at kids fromabout 12 on up.

This year the EAA’s Aviation Foundation decided to try weekend functionstargeted at families. I happened to see some information about it while we wereat Oshkosh for AirVenture ’99 and decided to follow up with a phone call. I madereservations for the second weekend of October. Almost immediately, I receivedconfirmation material that included arrival directions for aircraft or car, andtelephone numbers to make certain we could reach someone should there be aproblem.

…The Arrival…

We flew in and parked at Basler after looking longingly at the acres of emptygrass where the multitudes will be parking next summer. We wondered if anyonewould 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 inWisconsin water? The people are so incredibly nice without being nave. It issuch a pleasure to visit the state, and it sets a good tone for a weekend.] TheBasler folks took the phone number I had and called the Family Flight Campoffice 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 skilodge-style building behind the EAA Museum, on Pioneer Airport. Drive time fromBasler is short, so I didn’t feel too disappointed about not being allowed toland on Pioneer Airport. When I saw the types of airplanes flying from Pioneerthe 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 ofplace.

At the Lodge, Chuck Larsen, the executive director of the Foundation’sResident Education program, greeted us. I initially thought that someone at hislevel in the EAA would simply be there to say hello and turn things over tounderlings. Not so. Chuck was with us the entire weekend, leaving the Lodge togo home only after each family had turned in for the night and was there thenext morning before we got up. He proved to be a very interesting host, teacherand raconteur. He is a pilot and an A & P, plus he has extensive experiencein education.

…The Details…

Pioneer Airport and the EAA Air Academy Lodge, as seen from the right seat of EAA's Ford 4AT Trimotor.
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, functionalbunkrooms on the second floor. Each has four single beds (of varying heights)that appeared to be much larger than standard. Mine proved to be quitecomfortable. The room reminded me of a well-planned, oversized dorm room. Thebathrooms are “down the hall” and are well designed and very clean.I’ve been to too many “family camps” where the facilities are quiteprimitive. The EAA does things up very nicely. It supplies linens (although youmake your own bed) and towels. The EAA also recognizes it has to chargeappropriately to keep things up, so the weekend experience certainly isn’tcheap, but it was not nearly as expensive as a family weekend, with meals, at adecent hotel. I was to discover that the pleasant accommodations were areflection of the overall quality of the experience. I certainly felt my familygot its money’s worth and more. Cost is according to the number of familymembers attending. If one family member is an EAA member, the price is $300 forone or two people, $400 for three or four people and $50 for each additionalperson. Add $50 if no one in the family is an EAA member. That could change withtime, 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 eveningwas by family. That changed by Saturday morning with the kids creating a kid’stable 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 andserve yourself; clear your table yourself; and there is no soda pop in theLodge. I liked the third rule. As Chuck pointed out, the kids don’t need thecaffeine and sugar and there were plenty of fruit juices and milk available atall hours.

…The Plan

Assembling balsa wood, rubber band-powered models.
Assembling balsa wood, rubber band-powered models.

After dinner, Chuck spent quite some time talking with the group. I was alittle surprised that there were just six families involved; however, it turnedout to be the right size for what we were to do. Naturally, there was thetalking-about-yourself portion of the post-dinner discussion. It evolved intoone child from each family standing up and introducing his or her family. Itjust happened and proved to be a great icebreaker. I was also very surprised tolearn that we were the only family with at least one active pilot. The otherfamilies had heard of the weekend through sources other than the EAA, had kidsthat had an interest in aviation and decided this would be fun. One family hadthree generations attending. Grandfather had flown B-17s in combat in World WarII but had stopped flying after the war. His grandkids were excited aboutflying, but really didn’t have much of a clue about what grandpa had done. Theparents of the various families ran the entire gamut of professions, blue collarto medical doctor. The youngest kid was four. He did just fine. The oldest wasabout 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 onlycriticism – talked a little too much about what we could do rather than justleaping in and doing things. On Friday evening, we used up a bit too muchdaylight talking so we didn’t get to do as many of the outside activities as wehad hoped.

Bonding, EAA Style

Chuck took us to the obstacle course area and did some exercises calculatedto get us talking to each other. In one example, he used the kids’ naturalenthusiasm to get the parents to talk to each other: He put the kids on a verylarge log, then told the parents to stand by their children to catch them ifthey fell, otherwise the parents could not do anything at all to help the kidswith the project. Once on the log, the kids were to align themselves by thefirst letter of their first names. The kids had to sort out the appropriateorder and then figure out how to pass each other on the log. That communalexercise had all of us laughing. The kids then had to rearrange by height. I wasinterested 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 airplane.
Launching a rubber band-powered balsa wood airplane.

Eventually, the parents had to stand on the log and arrange themselves bybirth month, so they had to figure out how to pass each other on a log. It isdifficult to not talk to someone as you hang on to him or her and do a mutual180 to swap positions.

After it got dark, we explored the inside of the Lodge. Just off the greatroom is a well-stocked aviation library with both books and videos. I could havespent the weekend, and the next few weeks right there. All of us were encouragedto use the library anytime we had free and I noticed it proved to be a popularspot. I was able to read some books I’d not seen before and I watched somenon-flying folks plug right into the learn-to-fly videos.

The basement is unfinished, an excellent idea. Half is simply open, with roomfor kids to run. There was plenty of space for a pool table, ping-pong table andsome exercise equipment. There is a separate room with four computer-basedflight simulators. One was considered off limits as it was set up for someserious instrument training, but almost all members of all the families used therest almost all the time we were in the building.

More rubber band-powered planes.
More rubber band-powered planes.

On rising Saturday morning, we awoke to the sight of tendrils of fog over therunway at Pioneer airport. The effect was magical. Walking outside and lookingto the northwest through the mist at pilots preparing the antiques for flight infront of the reproduction hangars caused some of us to wonder what year we hadwandered into. We found ourselves conversing in whispers and a few lookedaround, as if expecting “Slim” Lindbergh to wander over to us.

After breakfast, we rode vans to the museum where we used one of theclassrooms to receive a basic discussion on flight. Chuck Larsen had plenty oftoys and a style that kept everyone interested, regardless of one’s level ofexperience with flying devices. We broke up into groups where we tried to makehot air balloons out of garbage bags, simple tools and a popcorn popper. Overthe course of the day we made airplane and rocket models. Bob Johnson, anational champion at radio-controlled model gliders, came in and taught us howto make a rubber band-powered balsa airplane from scratch. My attempts withbalsa as a kid had not turned out well so I was less than optimistic. But, theinstruction was so good, the individual attention so effective and the availabletools so appropriate that within a couple of hours the kids (actually, all ofus) were outside the museum flying the little airplanes with great success. Nonewound up on top of the museum, but the distance and height reached by mostcertainly impressed this cynic. (Even the one I was involved with worked welland it is now at home where we still fly it. It’s much more resistant to damagethan I anticipated.)

Bob Johnson with a radio-controlled model glider.
Bob Johnson with a radio-controlled model glider.

…Childhood, Revisited…

Over the course of Saturday and Sunday we became kids again. We openedourselves up to awe and wonderment. We learned that the diamond-shaped kite ofgrocery story fame is the least aerodynamic kind in the world. As a result, welearned what flew well and why kites fly (no, it’s not a crude form oflevitation.) We were given a number of kite kits to either assemble on site ortake home. We discussed model rockets. Due to time constraints we didn’t get tobuild many of the models, but each family left with kits and several motors tocreate family projects back home. We received a detailed, personal museum tourwhen 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 ahomebuilt biplane that had been cut away to show its components. When it cametime to get our wing rib kits, the purpose and function of the rib was veryclear. The kids got to fly a control-line, gas model airplane thoughtfullyprovided by volunteer Sean Elliott. That was a big hit and we kept Sean goinguntil 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 EAApersonnel impressed me. I was very pleased to learn that Chuck Larsen arrangedfor the entire, extended family to crawl through a real B-17. That event seemedto cause a new level of understanding for what the senior male of the family haddone. The thin skin of the fuselage and the fact it would not stop a bulletastonished his daughter. Until then, she had assumed the fuselage wasbulletproof. Her respect for her father and those who flew and fought in suchvulnerable craft knew no bounds. It seemed to even make an impression on theteenaged grandson.

…And Converting Fuel Into Noise

Pioneer Airport and the EAA Museum from the right front seat of a Ford 4AT Trimotor.
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 4ATTrimotor. Steve Lykins, one of the numerous volunteers, herds that ancientpelican through the sky on weekends. We clanged along at over a hundred decibelsand about 70 knots (he had it pulled back to save fuel) while we discovered whatgenerations before us learned – that the Trimotor is designed for passengers toenjoy the process of looking out the window. The visibility is fabulous. Seeingthe Wisconsin countryside crawl along from 500 feet while listening to threeR-985s from Pratt and Whitney was to realize that there are times when life isvery, 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 ofcajoling 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 wehad 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 someof 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 ondoing my take-home assignment.)

If you want to immerse your family in aviation for a weekend, meet someinteresting people in a pleasant locale, supported by first-rate people, includea visit to EAA’s Family Flight Camp on your holiday wish list. Call them up at920-426-4800 or visitEAA’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.