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Old 10-20-2011, 08:11 PM
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Ironflight Ironflight is offline
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Join Date: Jan 2005
Location: Dayton, NV
Posts: 12,840
Default Igniting the Spark

{This is not strictly RV Related, and I was pretty hesitant to post it until encouraged by DR. We've had a few very busy threads this week that were fairly broad on Experimental aviation, and they got me thinking....This is vital to the future of what we do!}

A common thread among aviators today is “why aren’t there more kids getting involved in aviation?" When this question gets discussed, it often comes down to (1) they can’t afford it or (2) They simply lack the interest. As difficult as it might sound, number 1 can be fixed if we want to fix it – by giving away free rides and free opportunities to let interested kids hang around the airport and help us build airplanes for instance. But what if they simply aren’t interested? Why aren’t they? I’m sure that we all think something is wrong with a kid that doesn’t like airplanes…right? Maybe we aren’t asking the right question to solve the problem (because you can’t solve a problem unless you really understand it). The real question we need to answer first is, “Well what got YOU hooked?!”

I can tell you that my mother tells everyone that the first word I said was “airpoo” as I looked up in the sky and pointed at a passing airplane. I can’t ever remember a time when I wasn’t fascinated by anything that flew. I don’t know why – I seem to have been born with the interest. But I know that some of the things that kept me interested was seeing Whirlybirds and Sky King on TV. I built models that I bought with my small allowance. I was excited anytime I could get near an airplane- taking Dad to the local airport to catch a commercial flight, watching the floatplanes at the local dock that gave rides over Lake Bemidji. Most of the books I checked out from the library were about airplanes and flying – big books on WW II aircraft and the air war, stories of WW I fighters. I had Charles Lindbergh’s book on my bookshelf early on. My father wasn’t a pilot, but his job as an educator put him on a NASA mailing list where he received big thick reports (full of color pictures) of every manned space mission – and they came straight to me!

I flew U-control models because I couldn’t afford R/C, then got the opportunity to work on real airplanes in my early teens due to the kindness of an FBO and some of his leaseback pilots. But that wasn’t what got me interested – it KEPT me interested. I was interested because of some sort of spark set very early on. And it didn’t hurt that flying was seen as unique – it set me apart, made me special (because ALL aviators were special!), and since I wasn’t very good at sports, it gave me a niche. And…it didn’t hurt that I could read at a level well above my grade to understand those books on flying earlier than most. {Did anyone else ever have a copy of “Ann Can Fly!” in their house?}

So what got YOU interested? And how can you use that information to help get today’s kids interested? All the Young Eagle’s rides in the world won’t get them hooked if they aren’t interested – oh, they’ll take the ride…then go do something else. They need to get that spark first. How do we ignite it?

Paul F. Dye
Editor at Large - KITPLANES Magazine
RV-8 - N188PD - "Valkyrie"
RV-6 (By Marriage) - N164MS - "Mikey"
RV-3B - N13PL - "Tsamsiyu"
A&P, EAA Tech Counselor/Flight Advisor
Dayton Valley Airpark (A34)

Last edited by Ironflight : 04-13-2012 at 09:12 AM.
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Old 10-20-2011, 08:56 PM
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sbal0906 sbal0906 is offline
Join Date: Aug 2009
Location: Winnipeg, Canada
Posts: 221

I got hooked when I was seven and my family went on a trip to their home country of India. Even then, knowing that such a huge airliner (DC-9 and 747) was getting into the air just blew my mind. I remember after that trip, I cut out pictures of airplanes, glued them to cardboard and ran around with them around making airplane noises. I had my dad take me to airshows as often as we could and I learned all about flight theory well before high school. I even had the aviation phonetic alphabet memorized! I've always been a science geek and meteorology has always been an interest too so I was learning all about the weather then too. Growing up, I never thought I'd be able to afford to get into aviation but one day when I was 27 I went out for an intro flight and I made it a point to go get my license.

I don't have kids so I'm not sure what can "ignite the spark". I've taken friends flying, yet no interest. (I'm not that bad of a pilot!) I was baffled when I walked into my first RAA (Recreational Aircraft Association) meeting a few years ago and I was the youngest person there -- I was 37.

I'm the only aviator in my family so my spark was lit on my own, just from a family trip. Sometimes all it takes is just that one experience.
Shamit Bal
Working on wing - fuel tanks.
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
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Old 10-20-2011, 09:06 PM
Kyle Boatright Kyle Boatright is offline
Join Date: Aug 2005
Location: Atlanta, GA
Posts: 4,680

Short version: My family got me interested in aviation at an early age.

Long version:

My dad and both of my grandfathers worked at Lockheed Georgia. Even as a little kid, i went to multiple open houses there, and was standing at the end of the runway in June 1968 to witness the first flight of the C-5. I was about 3 1/2 and still remember it. Today, I live inside the pattern for Dobbins ARB, where the Lockheed factory is co-located. I still get to see C-5's from time to time and C-130's almost every day.

When I was very young, my dad and I used to build models together. At first he did most of the building and I watched. I remember a PBY, a Spitfire, and an ME-109. Then I started helping. He was amazed when I built my first model all by myself. I couldn't read, but the pictures in the instructions were plenty for me. I was probably 5 years old. The model was a 1:72nd scale P-36. It was the first of hundreds.

I had a second cousin who had a Champ and his dad had a C-172. They took me flying when I was 4 or 5. Since the Champ provided my first airplane ride (It was VERY loud, by the way), I've always wanted a Champ. Which explains the pile of Aeronca parts in my basement.

Dad took me to see "The Battle of Britain" twice when it came out in 1969. I was almost 5 years old. I still want a Spitfire, but they aren't as affordable as Champs.

At some point, my grandparents purchased a whole display box full of North Pacific balsa gliders and rubber band powered airplanes. The box probably held 100 of them. My favorite was the Sleek Streak. Wind one up 100+ turns and it would really go. It took me years to go through that box of airplanes, but I eventually managed to break 'em, wear 'em out, or get all of them irretrievably stuck in trees. I learned a lot about aerodynamics, airframe repairs, and aircraft performance from those little airplanes. I think I still have a callus on my finger from winding them.

By about the third grade, I was a prolific reader. Guess what I read? Airplane books, of course. Richard Bach, Martin Caidin, and a bunch of others. The teachers used to call my mom and complain that they caught me reading in class again. Mom <a teacher herself> later confided that she didn't know how to respond when another teacher complained that I was reading.

The first experimental aircraft I remember seeing was a KR-2. I was probably 10 or so. The airplane was so interesting, and I was so insistant, my dad drove us over to the local airfield to watch it do touch and go's. When it landed, we walked over and spoke with the pilot.

Somehow, the last 36 years have been a continuation of the first 10.

By the way, remember the KR-2 and its pilot? I probably reconnected with both of them when I joined the local EAA chapter 15 years ago.
Kyle Boatright
Marietta, GA
2001 RV-6 N46KB
2019(?) RV-10

Last edited by Kyle Boatright : 10-20-2011 at 11:15 PM.
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Old 10-20-2011, 09:13 PM
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N941WR N941WR is offline
Join Date: Jan 2005
Location: SC
Posts: 12,887
Default My Dad and my brothers

With trying to feed seven kids, there was never extra money for such extravagances as flying; however, my father always subscribed to Flying when I was growing up.

I worked my way through rubber band power balsa planes, plastic models, tissue paper covered balsa models, string controlled airplanes and even designed and built a few unique ones. (I found with enough power, you can make a Coke can fly.)

When I was 22 and working on my PPL, I never told my parents until I was able to fly home and give them a ride. Unfortunately my father died before I started on the RV. He would have loved it but I can hear him in the back of my head saying, ?Build the Rocket! Why do you want to go slow??
Bill R.
RV-9 (Yes, it's a dragon tail)
O-360 w/ dual P-mags
Build the plane you want, not the plane others want you to build!
SC86 - Easley, SC
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Old 10-20-2011, 09:17 PM
Paul K Paul K is offline
Join Date: Mar 2009
Location: Grand Rapids, MI
Posts: 1,019

I give a lot of YE rides and you are correct, it doesn't light the spark in these kids.

For me, it was a flight in a float plane when I was about 10 or so. A friend of my dad visited us on Mackinac Island one summer and offered me a ride in his plane to go island hopping. Had no idea what I was getting into but I knew then and there that float planes are really cool!

30 plus years later and after 140 or so jumps under the canopy, I realized the real reason I enjoyed skydiving so much was really being in and around airplanes. After watching so many people get banged up jumping, I hung it up and decided to get a pilots license. The rest is history but it really started with that first float plane ride.

I've thought a lot about how to get kids interested now a days. Seems that most YE kids are there because their parents drove them there. They seem to enjoy the ride but don't seem to ask the right questions afterwords. I really prefer to give a ride to one kid at a time and not during a large YE event. I like to have them meet me at the hanger and help pull the plane out and start living the process. It allows a lot more time talking about flying and I think gives them a better view of what aviation is all about. I also like to have the parents hang out at the FBO picnic table and wait for us to come past. Time for photos later.

I always hope that this one on one approach may light their interest better than just getting a quick ride at an event. I enjoy it a lot more.
Paul K
West Michigan

Unfortunately in science, what you believe is irrelevant.

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Old 10-20-2011, 09:29 PM
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Ron Lee Ron Lee is offline
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SkyKing TV show

Along with Sea Hunt and Ripcord
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Old 10-20-2011, 09:38 PM
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KatieB KatieB is offline
Join Date: Jun 2010
Location: Belton, MO
Posts: 1,145

My background sounds a lot like yours, Paul!

Nobody in my family flies, but my parents were artists with their own art gallery in our house when I was young. My dad carved wood bird sculptures and we were dedicated birdwatching freaks, so I liked things that flew and I liked making things from a very young age. If you want the whole boring story, type my name in YouTube and you'll find my presentation at last year's AMA expo. (that's Academy of Model Aeronautics, not American Medical Assn...) Anyway, modeling was my inroad to full-scale. Building models shaped my life's path.

Older modelers & pilots complain that kids don't like airplanes anymore, but I think the reality is that aviation is SO mainstream now that most kids just don't notice planes anymore. Back when most EAA members were kids, the heroes were WWII aces and the first jet pilots... and the first astronauts. Ordinary kids back then were enamored with flight because it was still new and growing rapidly. Now, the Extraordinary kids love airplanes. How to ignite the spark? It's different for everyone... I'm sure Young Eagles doesn't hurt! I was a Young Eagle and flew my own YE's as soon as I got my private ticket, but I didn't tell anyone at EAA that I would have become a pilot without YE... whoops, I just did! . Actually, I grew up 2 hours from OSH and my dad took me there for the first time when I was 10. I still have those first issues of Sport Aviation that we got when he had to join EAA to get us on the "flight line." Still harboring dreams of making it into SA with my plane someday too, but that's for another thread...
Katie Bosman
EAA Homebuilt Aircraft Council
Rebuilt most of SNF tornado victim RV-3B Tony Boy II (had to sell him, but he's flying!)
VAF Dues Paid 2021!
Thoughts & opinions expressed here are my own, and not those of my employer.
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Old 10-20-2011, 09:54 PM
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rvbuilder2002 rvbuilder2002 is offline
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Location: Hubbard Oregon
Posts: 9,667

My story is just about the same as Paul's story word for word with just a different name filled in on the end (and we grew up near the same airport at the same time, but never met... go figure).

I am sure that with the right approach, the spark can be lit in a lot of kids that didn't start out with it on their own, but my approach so far has been to reach out to teens that seem to have the spark already. If a kid comes to me and asks for a ride, I say when are you ready to go? If they are willing to ask, I know they have a strong desire.
The same approach worked with our first Teen Flight project. We spread the word and then let them come to us. We ended up with a great group of guys that were very motivated. A large percentage of them are now on a fast track to a carrier in some way connected to aviation. HERE is a little story that was just published about one of them.

It would be great to find a way to preach (and have people listen) flying for fun to the masses. In the mean time, please, please, pleeeease, do not pass up any opportunity when a kid shows an obvious sign that the spark is already lit... throw a bucket of avgas on it and make it blaze.

Like Paul said, a lot of the time it comes down to cost (it also doesn't help that the majority of airports near metro areas where a lot of kids live, are lock down tighter than Fort Knox). If we all took a bit of time to make it outwardly known that we enjoy introducing kids to aviation, the word will slowly spread and the kids that want that opportunity will come.

Can you tell I am a bit passionate about this subject?
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Old 10-20-2011, 10:08 PM
stevemcgirr stevemcgirr is offline
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Location: Eugene, OR
Posts: 159
Default My son got me hooked

The nurse that works with me has two pilot sons. One, an Embry Riddle grad and CFI named Taylor was home visiting a while back, and found out that my son, age 13 then, was pretty passionate about anything mechanical (at that time mostly F1 racers, and the Shelby Cobra). He asked if Doug would be "interested in going for a flight in a Cessna". Of course he was. On the day of the flight, Taylor showed him how to preflight a plane, which was cool enough since it involved getting up close and personal with an engine. Then Taylor said, "you sit here" pointing to the left front seat. He then talked Doug through a runup, takeoff and up in to the sky. Then he said, "Its your plane. You can go anywhere"

Doug did stalls, a weightless parabola, and a touch and go (Taylor discretely "guiding" the controls). After a centerline landing (Taylor on rudder), Doug's first flight was done. Let me tell you, he could barely walk, he was so excited.

Since we (I) didn't really know where to go from there, Doug researched that our local community college had a highly regarded flight training program. Doug wanted to attend, but was intimidated that he was only 13 and he would be attending "college" (albeit through the community ed program, not as a student) for ground school. I offered to attend with him (no previous flight experience). I had no intention of getting hooked, but I did.

From there, we found our way to a Cessna flight school near us. By then I had taken and passed the PP written exam (with zero hours in the cockpit!)

Doug is nearly 15 now, with 50 hours of dual logged. Counting the hours until his 16th Bday and soloing

When you take that little person up for that first flight, I guess you can't know what will happen. For them, or for you
Steve McGirr
RV7 N1991M
First Flight: May 18, 2013
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Old 10-20-2011, 10:18 PM
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bhassel bhassel is offline
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Posts: 979

Sky King!

And when I was a young kid we moved to Wichita. My dad worked for Cessna. SkyKing would come in for a new bird - it was always a big deal. On Christmas we'd drive my Ms Beech's house and look at all the Christmas lights. Santa would also arrive at the airport in a Cessna (at least on the days I went).

By my senior year of high school we ended up in Dayton, Oh. I had a wild hair and took lessons from a little grass strip in Mad River, Oh in a Citabria. I didn't really care about the license, I just wanted to fly.

I still do want to fly...

Bob Hassel

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Home is where the hanger is...
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