My brother, the Home Office in Wichita, answered my question about how some steelworker’s kid from Steubenville decided to go into aviation by saying the airplanes flying into the airport at Wintersville intrigued him.
I am seven years younger than he, but I know if I had been the older brother, I could have beaned him with a baseball anytime anything flew over our back yard. His eyes and head went into the skies.
It led to a 40-year career, so far, that I think he’d say is rewarding, with Cessna. No, he never got a pilot’s license, but he gets to do some really cool stuff, like talking to pilots in flight, making recommendations and advising people who own gazillion-dollar little jets about how to keep ’em flying, and some awesome, responsible-adult career stuff.
I’m thinking of him talking on Thanksgiving morning, 1,000 miles from his Cessna (a Textron Corp.) cubicle via cell phone to a pilot or a mechanic on the ground in Saudi Arabia or Abu Dhabi or some warm place, and looking at shop manuals for the guy’s jet via the Cessna database. All from my dining room in Toronto. Talk about the second “wow” moment when I realized all the cool he’s got in his job. The first was when he toured me through the Citation jet service center in Wichita and I realized there were over a billion dollars worth of bizjets in there, and he knew what was going on with a whole bunch of ’em.
When I’m good, Mr. Marshall the Publisher gets me a new keyboard for my old Mac, or The (Dr.) Boss lets me get a new cell phone.
Before I digress, the whole point is that my brother got into aviation because there was a little airport just over the hill from our house with lots of little airplanes attracting his attention back in the 1960s.
Older pilots will tell you there aren’t a lot of little kids looking up from their backyards, let alone standing at the airport fence, ready to reach for the skies. The dearth of little airports nationwide is compounding that loss of aviation curiousity, and careers.
That’s where the Young Eagles program of the Experimental Aircraft Association comes in. The goal is to get kids interested by getting them up in the air with a local pilot. They go through a preflight inspection of the plane with the pilot and learn what makes the plane work. They get to sit right next to the pilot (you get to do that in little general aviation planes) and learn about the controls, listen to the radio transmissions, help scan for traffic and see their hometown from a whole different angle, a thousand feet straight up.
They get to experience the wide open joy of exploration, the exhilaration of flying that most of us don’t feel in airliners. (I say “most of us” because I have a face-wide grin every time I fly an Embraer regional jet airliner or a Canadair Challenger regional jet airliner and the thing rockets down the runway on takeoff, pushing the passengers back in the seat a bit. Cool. Closest I get to feel like Adm. Alan Shepard.)
And they might grow up recognizing that little airports and little airplanes aren’t just a toy for rich businessmen. They’re tools, they’re engineering marvels, they’re a source of employment in flying and designing and maintaining and engineering the things.
EAA Chapter 859 at the Jefferson County Air Park is holding a Young Eagles opportunity from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday. Potential pilots, the curious or parents of kids between the ages of 8 and 17 just looking for something really good to do that will make a lifetime memory, aviation career or not, can fly. Parents need to accompany their children to sign relese forms. Neither of my kids went into aviation, despite uncle idolatry and a scientific curiousity, but both of them, now in their mid 20s, still talk of the day Dad took them to the Jefferson County Air Park and they got to fly in a little plane.
(The same way I remember my dad taking me to the airport one sunny afternoon and I flew in a green Taylorcraft piloted by a man Dad worked with, Merle Nixdorf. I can still see the clouds and feel the bumps when he flew the little old plane over Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel’s hot furnaces. We didn’t need programs in those days to go flying. Just good friends of the family.) Make your kid a Young Eagle on Saturday.
You never know if it’s the start of a rewarding 40-year career, but it surely is the start of a lifetime smile.