I have a personal history of involvement in introducing youngsters to aviation and encouraging aviation careers. It is probably driven by my own career, one that I would not trade for anything. I have always loved my work.
I began working with young people some years ago while employed by a large flight training organization. We did college accredited pilot training in South Florida. I was also involved with training Civil Air Patrol cadets and later worked as a volunteer in Aviation Exploring, a Boy Scouts of America program. I am proud to say that there are a bunch of people in aviation today that I was able to mentor. I know that because so many stay in touch with me. That’s the best part.
As we struggle with a declining pilot population and concerns about pilot and AMT shortages in the years to come, I find plenty of reasons to be optimistic about youth interested in aviation careers. One of them comes from an event I attended this week in Kentucky – “WING DESIGN CHALLENGE” – sponsored by NASA/Kentucky, The University of Kentucky Dept. of Engineering and the Kentucky Institute for Aerospace Education (KIAE).
An estimated 250 high school students representing 25 aviation teams from more than 20 school districts in The Commonwealth participated. The KIAE supplies each team with a standard complete RC model fuselage and engine. The team designs and builds a wing; documents what they have done and why – then submits their paper for judging. At the event they are judged further on an oral interview and rigorous flight testing of their wing design. I sat through a number of interviews and observed the flight testing, done by AMA licensed pilots. I can personally attest that these youngsters are “into” this program. Among this many high school students you’d think there would be some “goof-offs”, but I saw none. These teams are serious, learning a lot and clearly having a lot of fun in the process.
During the day I was able to talk with some of the participants about their career interests. One of the initial assignments when they begin KIAE aviation classes is to sign up for our AOPA “AV8RS”- Pilots of Tomorrow program. This special AOPA membership is FREE for teens between 13 and 18 and is loaded with benefits, all designed to feed and foster their interest in aviation.
Next week I am speaking to a group of high school students interested in aviation and I am actively initiating an outreach to members who share my interest in promoting aviation careers. As summer nears and schools are out for a few months there are even more opportunities to get kids out to the airport and in the air. I am gratified to know how many AOPA members are getting involved with teens and becoming mentors themselves.