Airport fences were once just a boundary, not a barrier.
At least that was what kids who rode their bicycles to watch the planes thought. Their always seemed to be a pilot around to take an interested child “under their wing” and set them on the path to a pilot’s license. Society moved on and interested youngsters at fences became nostalgia.
“(The lack of young interest in flying) is a big theme in aviation and we are worried about it,” said Twin County Aviation LLC Manager Scott Thomas. “The actor, Chris Robertson, was a fanatic pilot. He had a home in California but he had a home in New York and used Teterboro Airport and had an airplane there. Mimi (Thomas’ wife) and I were having dinner with him and a bunch of other people, it was not for us, and we were telling airport stories. He said he was glad EAA was doing something and it was sad with kids today. He said I was at Teterboro working on an airplane and there was a kid watching me and my plane. After about 15 minutes of him standing there, Robertson turns to the kid and says, ‘Hey kid. You wanna help me wash my airplane?’ That is airplane code for ….and you get to go flying afterwards. This kid, without batting an eye said, ‘So, how much you gonna pay me, man.”’
He asked Robertson how to answer something like that. Robertson told him he didn’t say a thing. He turned around and washed his airplane.
“Rather than the airport being an adventure and getting a chance to go out and do that, the kid just wanted to know what he was going to get paid,” Thomas said.
One example of connecting fifth graders’ “flights of fancy” to the real world was Carroll County’s Intercession elective class on flight. The class, courtesy of veteran teacher Jay Allen of Gladeville Elementary, decided to dust off the concept and give students a personal “altitude adjustment.”
“They wanted us to come up with creative elective classes that kids could participate in. Intercession is where they take a break from regular classroom rigor to do some fun things. Actually, in the mid-90s I did a small unit with third graders on aviation. We worked it out so we took several kids on a flight on a Saturday morning. So when they asked us to come up with ideas I thought, well, let’s do aviation,” said Allen. “I got together with the folks at the airport and we made arrangements. It took several months but we arranged it through the Young Eagles program, where they give kids a chance to go up at no cost to them. Actually, other than paying for the bus ride here, it’s at no cost to the school.”
He said students learned to fly drones and built paper and model airplanes. Students had to be accompanied by a parent or guardian and received their own personal flight logbook and certificate for participating. Some students were even given a chance to use the radios to announce their landing approach.
The class was held on March 5 at Twin County Airport through The EAA Young Eagles program. Participating pilots donated their time and covered the fuel costs for the short flights. Pilots helping with the class were Chris Thomas and Caleb Glick. Approximately 20 students participated in the class prefaced by a class on the nuts and bolts of aircraft, differences between planes and helicopters and touring an airplane hangar, courtesy of Twin County Aviation LLC.
Twin County Airport Manager John M. Lael recalled how he was inspired by the Young Eagles Program when he was 13 years old. A gruff, veteran flyer recognized a kindred spirit and introduced him in the way many a flyer started, an invitation to help him wash his plane. (The understood and unspoken part of this traditional invite is the flying which comes later after menial chores validate a student’s interest.)
“I was nervous the first time I flew. I wanted to learn to fly since I was three years old. It’s interesting how cyclic aviation has become for me,” said Lael. “Here it is 18 years later, hosting it and I get to watch a bunch of kids do the same thing. It’s awesome. I love it. This little kid (Joseph Coles) jumped out of the airplane after it landed and he was so excited. I was excited the first time I flew. I was ecstatic.”
Lael said Coles stepped up to him and said he had an unnatural fear of heights and wanted to go first. He did. When he walked off the runway and to Lael he told him he loved it. The pilots on hand smiled broadly when Coles’ plane landed and he yelled (with a triumphant fist in the air) “I did it!” He ran to his mother, hugged her and said, “I want to do it again!”
The two planes used for the class were a Cessna Model 175 (a four-seater aircraft) and a Van’s Aircraft RV-6(a high-performance plane) flown by pilots Chris Thomas and Caleb Glick. Christian Kirby, who serves as a pilot and an aircraft mechanic, said he was enjoying seeing the excitement of the students. He said he was introduced to aviation by pilot Chris Thomas’ father, Scott, who manages Twin County Aviation LLC, a separate operator at the airport providing a varied range of aircraft services. He said flying is a hobby for him and working on aircraft is how he makes his living.
According to information provided by the EAA Young Eagles group, it is an international association with 170,000 members. People may call 1-800-564-6322 or go to the website at www.eaa.org. Videos of the students’ flights have been posted to YouTube. Search under Young Eagles Gladeville Flight-YouTube.
David Broyles may be reached at 276-779-4013 or on Twitter@CarrollNewsDave.