The National Air and Space Museum hosted its annual Family Learn-To-Fly Day at the Udvar-Hazy annex at Washington-Dulles International Airport on Saturday, June 14, and the results left me more optimistic than I’ve been in a long while that the dwindling pilot population doesn’t have to dwindle in the future.
We all know the discouraging economics having to do with avgas, new aircraft, hangars, insurance, flight training, etc.
Well, here’s what I saw on Saturday: Scores of bright-eyed, extremely well-behaved kids entranced by flying machines ranging from hot-air balloons and hang gliders to warbirds and bizjets; parents asking detailed, informed questions that showed a real appreciation for flying, and enthusiastic aircraft owners willing to stand on a sweltering ramp and share their knowledge and expertise.
There’s a reason the Air and Space Museum is perennially the most visited of all the Smithsonian’s attractions. Americans are as interested in aerospace as ever. We just have to find a way to help them get involved.
A colleague, Pat Haller, and I, brought N208GG, the AOPA’s Sweepstakes plane, to the event. And visitors were impressed by the level of detail and craftsmanship in the restored, 1976 Archer. One visitor, Greg Harrison of Winterset, Iowa, was almost at a loss for words.
Harrison used to fly and maintain the plane when it was known as N22ZT.
“It was nothing special to look at,” he said. “In fact, it was pretty rough.”
The plane had had a hard-knock life until AOPA acquired it last year and launched an extreme makeover. The details of its transformation are chronicled, in detail, in AOPA Pilot, and the articles will continue until the plane is delivered to our annual sweepstakes winner in January. It was gratifying to see Harrison’s disbelieving reaction to the plane, which has gone from a sow’s ear to a silk purse.
It was a new experience for me to fly behind the Archer’s Aspen primary flight display on the way to and from the event.
The flight was great, but the taxi was taxing. In fact, taxiing from Runway 19C to the museum took longer than the short flight from Frederick–and the radio got a real workout. In a 30-mile flight, I spoke with three controllers (two approach, one tower) and four on the ground (two ramp and two ground). That doesn’t even count ASOS and Unicom at Frederick, or ATIS at Dulles.
Thanks to the museum staff for allowing AOPA to take part in such a worthwhile event. I look forward to the hard but rewarding work of preserving and expanding our flying heritage for the next generation . . .