Giving Young Flyers a Chance

Do you remember this food commercial that ran years ago on major TV channels in North America? The food producer (I forget their name for now) wanted to promote their particular brand by asking a youngster to express his opinion about that food brand. The youngster simply held out his plate towards the camera and said “More, please”. No other words were needed to convey the kid’s satisfaction with the food to TV viewers watching this short and sweet commercial.

Aviation careers are often born with this kind of beaming smile

Aviation careers are often born with this kind of beaming smile

Well, what about this photo as a way to demonstrate convincingly to adult pilots, parents, educators, aviation promoters the immense joy that taking the controls of a small aircraft can bring to a youngster, even if for a few precious minutes in safe and stable flight conditions?

Need I comment on that young guy’s smile? Needless to say, flying attracts both male and female young flyers. Some are lucky enough to live near a youth-friendly flying club where an instructor will take them for a “short” ride with a little hands-on experience. What’s short by adults’ standards can feel like being lost in time – but not in space – for the youngster at the controls.

Other youngsters have a relative or a family friend who is a careful and youth-minded pilot and will gladly take them up for an initiation ride.

"Ladies and gentlemen, this is your future Captain speaking..."

“Ladies and gentlemen, this is your future Captain speaking…”

And then, there are organizations, mostly non-profit, dedicated to giving youngsters a taste of holding the flight controls of a small airplane by taking them for a sight-seeing tour or actually training them to fly solo in gliders, for instance.

Fortunately for me and other youngsters of my age, the Aéro-Club Royal de Belgique had such a program at the Saint-Hubert aerodrome in southern Belgium (see Google Earth photo on the “About” page of this blog).

Other than licensed relatives and friends or local youth-friendly flying clubs, there are more non-profit organizations in various parts of the world than I can list here. One organization worth mentioning in particular because of the sheer span of its youth program are the Young Eagles sponsored by the EAA (Experimental Aircraft Association). In addition, the Airline Pilots’ Association, International (ALPA) has put together a website invitingly called Cleared to Dream, with loads of information, personal tales and advice aimed at people planning to become airline pilots.

Also, flight simulator programs available for use on home computers go a long way to entice youngsters to go from their computer joystick to the real world of flying.

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Young R/C pilot with model powered glider

In the wonderful realm of remote controlled aircraft, I have seen son-father, grandfather-granddaughter teams launching in the spring an R/C aircraft they spent the whole winter building or assembling together. This type of activity makes for special family bonds in addition to new bonds with the world of aviation. So much can be learned about the principles of flight and aircraft design from R/C flight!

After flying ‘real’ airplanes from 1969 to 2000, I switched to R/C flying. I can assure you that the joy of flying an R/C plane for the first time was comparable to the one I experienced when I first soloed on a glider in Saint-Hubert (Belgium).

Very first powered glider I flew in in 1969 (still fying in 2001)

Very first powered glider I flew in in 1969 (still fying in 2001)

Either way, the first time at the controls is pure magic.

Maybe Darwin was wrong after all. The human race has evolved from the avian species.

P.S.: Please note that certain licensing requirements may apply to the pilot-in-command of an aircraft who hands over temporary control of the aircraft in flight to an unlicensed person.


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