The Pilot's Lounge #14:
Kids in Aviation — and Other Items of Interest

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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.

The Pilots LoungeIt's 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 magazine.

An Aviat HuskyThe 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 wheel airplanes.

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 different.

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

A CFI and a student load up.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 the kids are aiming for...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.

Young Eagles logoSeveral 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 something.

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 plate.
  • 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.

Frank Price

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 cker 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 memorable performances.

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.