Lexy’s adventure

March 9, 2009 by Tim McAdams

As a parent, I often wonder if my children will develop a passion for flying. I have two daughters, Madi who is 8 years old and Lexy who is 13. Both of them have been around airplanes and helicopters from the time they were babies. In fact, Madi got a helicopter ride before she was born. My wife was four months pregnant, when we flew an R44 from California to Pennsylvania (see AOPA PILOT, September 2000).

Sometimes I think spending so much time around aircraft has given them a different perspective than their friends. Like the time my wife and I decided to rent a C172 and take them around the area to look at the fall colors. They were excited, however, after takeoff we looked in the back and they were both sleeping. My wife commented, “I am not sure they understand the difference between this and the car.”

Last year I had an opportunity to take Lexy with me on a ferry flight from Dallas, TX to Long Beach, CA in an AS350 Astar helicopter. This time she wasn’t content just being a passenger, she wanted to try flying. The first day was a short flight to El Paso, TX. So once clear of DFW’s class B airspace, I gave her the controls. She could hold it steady for a short time before I would take over, straighten it out, and give it back to her. She was determined to make the helicopter do what she wanted and after about 20 minutes she could basically hold it straight and level. After an hour or so she was bored and started asking a lot of questions. I showed her how to read the Garmin GPS, hold heading and altitude and after practicing the rest of the day she got pretty good.

The next day she started out flying right away and flew almost the entire day. I watched, somewhat amazed, as she held a steady course and would tell me how she was using the information she was reading off the GPS. After a while she was eager to learn more and I showed her the sectional map. She would take a break from flying for 5 or 10 minutes and study it. Along our course about 20 nm south of Deming, NM was a tethered balloon to 15,000 feet msl. It was marked on the sectional as a restricted area and she noticed we were heading right for it. When we got closer, she spotted the balloon glimmering in the sun and turned north to avoid the area.

By the time we arrived in the Los Angeles area, she was really comfortable flying and a big help with threading our way through the crowded airspace. We parked the helicopter at Long Beach airport and flew home on the airlines. The next day she came home from school looking very sad. I asked her what was wrong and she said that none of her friends believed that she flew a helicopter. Luckily, we took lots of pictures for her to show them.


  • http://AOPA Rich

    Very nice, stay with it Lexy, I see an aircraft career in your future.

  • Alex Kovnat

    Madi, Lexy and Tim McAdams:

    Beautiful! You Go GIrl!

    Since you have access to fixed wing aircraft as well as helicopters, you might want to give Lexy a little time under an instrument training hood in a properly equipped plane, to teach basic attitude instrument flying. I suppose that since L. can control a helicopter, VFR-flying a fixed wing airplane would be second nature to her.

    Has Madi held the controls of an airplane, if not a helicopter, yet?

    They are indeed both very lucky children!

  • Tim McAdams

    Thanks for the suggestion. I did take Lexy with me once on a short IFR flight in a Bell 430. She was too young (about 9) to do anything but watch. She did think it was cool when we broke out on an ILS at about 400 feet. Madi has never touched the controls, but she keeps asking when she can take a trip like her big sister. Hopefully, I’ll have an opportunity again when she’s older.

  • Steve Groff

    My experiences tell me that it doesn’t make any difference what you do. But exposing kids to everything you can is great for them. In the future they’ll use the experience somehow. When my boys were little I would strap them in the back seat of my Aeronca Champ and take them flying all the time. Then when our girl came we got a Lake Amphibian. The kids thought that it was our family car. They all three flew everywhere in it. Great, safe fun. The boys both solo’d Gliders, each on their respective 14th birthdays. Each got their Private Pilots on the Lake Amphibian. The oldest got his Commercial Helicopter Instructors Rating right out of High School. He taught his brother and he got his Helicopter Private and that’s where it ended. The oldest is passionate about flying and now has a Mooney Ovation which he flies everywhere, but not professionally. His brother can fly but couldn’t care less about flying. As for our daughter, she is a Playwright and uses all the experiences of the past and the present about flying very often in her plays, but never had the slightest interest in getting licensed although she was a natural and flew the Lake quite well. So live your life, keep exposing them and see what happens because you can’t predict anything. Nevertheless, I took all the Grandkids, boys and girls alike, every chance I got in my last R-44 when I had it, and we’ll see what the future brings. Blue Skies.

  • Doug Bishoff

    My 7 yr old grandson has been flying with me every weekend in my 172 since he was two. At four, he began taking the controls, flying straight and level by the instruments (he couldn’t see over the windshiield) and following the GPS . At six, he wanted to fly out of a deep valley we had flown into to go skiing. I said ,”I’ll see how good he is”. I told him ” as soon as I take off, fly over the ski slope, turn to 240 degrees, climb at 500 ft/min to the tower on the mountain, level off at 4500ft, set the GPS for W99, fly to 5 miies from the airport, descend to 2,000 ft and give me the controls”. He did it perfectly (by instruments of course) without me touching the controls or repeating the instructions, but insisted on flying the pattern to short final also, with my commands for the turn points. I sat for 2 minutes after shutdown not believing he had done it. He said, “I just watch you granddad. ” He is seven now and can’t wait to fly to Sun and Fun with me.

    I think kids can go a lot further than we give them credit for sometimes. We are just not aware of their abilities until we let them try them out.

  • Joe Barnhart

    Tim, you are so lucky that your children have an interest and Steve, you are so right. Either someone has a passion for flying or they simply don’t–it can’t be taught. My two daughters have always loved having the utility of the family airplane to geth them where they’d like to be, but I’ve never been able to get them to take the controls, even for a minute. They are both grown now and still bumming rides when it’s convenient for them (hey, any excuse to fly…). The older one has given us our first grand child and I’m hoping maybe he will be able to share the thrill and grandeur of flying little airplanes with me some day.

  • Brett Lessley

    I know how Lexy felt at school, I used to tell my classmates that I was flying dads airplane and noone believed me. It was better 8-10 later when I soloed, nobody could deny then.

    I am enjoying your helicopter articles, I am finishing my rating now and the story is the same again “can you really fly a helicopter?”

  • Deborah

    If Lexy didn’t already start a log book, they have pink ones at http://www.aviationlogs.com Item # GFTSP30 and at http://www.powderpuffpilot.com

  • http://blog/aopa.orgviae-mail Nick Roberts

    Mr. McAdams, A very good story and lesson. Please tell your daughter “Well Done” and “Stay the course” My daughter is 23 and I am proud of her accomplishments (though no aviation related). I understand your pride in her. Thanks for taking the time to share this with us .

  • Jack Ellis

    I did something like this with a niece back in 2002. With a little coaching, she flew for 2 hours, all the way to pattern altitude at our destination airport. When you think about it, this is the ultimate video game for a kid, complete with full motion!

  • Rick

    Thats awesome! Hope she keeps it up. I wish someone would have taught me to fly at that age. At age 44 now, I am still wishing someone would teach me to fly. Out of a job and out of money, I am not not leaving the ground fast.

  • Jim

    Years ago, I was an Army instructor pilot, and led a group of OH-58 (Bell JetRanger) helicopters on a cross-country from Monterrey, CA to Corpus Christi, TX. We had a couple of crew chiefs with us, and the one flying with me had applied to the Army’s Warrant Officer Flight School. Since he showed a lot of interest, I let him fly quite a bit, and by the second day, he was doing well enough that he was flying fairly close “staggered trail” formation, and doing a pretty good job. In fact, at one point, he got on the radio and chided the pilot in front of us for “too much separation”. When that pilot looked over his shoulder, and realized that the crew chief was flying 2-rotor-disk separation formation on him, and holding rock steady, he nearly flipped out. The guy was a natural.

    However, as “no good deed goes unpunished,” this guy also gave me a rather rude awakening later in the flight. We had to make a position report, and in parts of West Texas, that means climbing way up into “nose bleed” territory (defined by Army pilots as “anything over 100 ft AGL”). We had to climb to nearly 6,000 feet to obtain radio contact, and I was splitting my concentration between keeping visual contact with the rest of my flight ( it’s tough keeping track of olive drab helicopters nearly 5,000+ ft below you that blend almost perfectly with the terrain), looking for other aircraft at my altitude, keeping an eye on my crew chief “co-pilot” (who was flying at the time), and frankly enjoying the momentary respite from the 95 degree heat, when suddenly the engine noise decreased to a whisper. My training took over, and I immediately took the controls, lowered the collective, established best glide airspeed, and selected the best available landing area. That took maybe 5 seconds, but seemed like 3 lifetimes… Once I knew I had the landing zone made, I turned my attention to what the heck had happened. Almost immediately, I noticed that the engine RPM was at flight idle. I checked the throttle, and sure enough, it had been reduced to the flight idle detent. I brought the power back up, and turned to look at my crew chief (who as you will recall was flying at the time the “power loss” occurred), and gave him “the look”… He just smiled and said that he’d always wanted to experience an autorotation, and thought this was as good a time as any to see what it was like! (At our next stop, he learned that his antics had earned him the “back seat” for the next 2.5 hour leg – a severe punishment, since those seats had a 1-inch foam pad resting on the armor plating that protected the under-seat fuel tank.)

  • Lexy Marasek

    I,M a 52 year old male with a private rotorcraft rating I’ve only met 3 other Lexy,s in my life .So I was more than curious about the title of your article. I thought some one had nicked one of my old seismograph oil stories as I worked for over a decade with over 50 pilots and thousands of hours in the Rockies . It took 47 years to finally grab the cyclic for myself so the fact that theres another Lexy thats out there that really has a chance with what to me has been a lifetime dream and shes 13 years old has actually made me embarrsingly emotional !..you don.t worry about those classmates ! girl you will be flyin over ther heads looking down wondering why there all going so slow …. smiling the whole time

  • http://www.usmarinepilot.com kevin

    Great story. Keep introducing them to things like that and they’ll grow in ways you can’t imagine. Besides an interest in airplanes my daughter also likes ATV’s, jet skis and snowmobiles.

    Become A Marine Pilot

  • Dakota!

    i believed her! :)

  • Chris L.

    Great article.

    I fly airplanes and helicopters professionally and will hopefully never forget the simple things like a short hop around the pattern, a trip to the local control tower, or how the view from above can be amazing.

    Everyone in the business has a story that is worth listening to.

    Safe travels and good luck in the future.

  • Deb Notaro

    Girls With Wings, an organization for young girls (and the young at heart) who love aviation was started by Lynda Meeks – a helicopter pilot. Check out http://www.GirlsWithWings.org