by Doug Garin
Published in Midwest Flyer – December 2018/January 2019 issue
So, there we were, three senior pilots standing around the little t-hangar in Alexandria, Minnesota on a Saturday morning. Listening to the occasional rumble of the air-cooled, four-cylinder airplanes rumbling down Runway 31 at Chandler Field and wondering why it was that we do not see as many young people leaning on the perimeter fence and dreaming of flight as we once did. Of course, memory is a funny thing. Back when we were kids, there were dozens of us salivating on the then fenceless, non-Homeland Security hometown airport hoping for a ride from an old, World War II pilot. When in fact the reality was that few of us had airports close enough to visit and most of us fed our passion by watching little airplane sorties in the skies above, or perhaps that eagerly awaited Saturday morning episode of “Sky King” or “Whirlybirds.”
For me, as an impetuous five-year-old back in the ‘60s, the hook was a ride sponsored by my late Aunt Gina in a Korean War-era Bell 47 helicopter. Our flight began at a local supermarket parking lot across from the old Met Stadium in Bloomington, Minnesota. Some 60 years later I can still feel the noise of that Lycoming behind my seat as I nervously looked out of that thin plastic barrier between me and the ground beneath us. As the vibration and noise of the helicopter blades increased, the pilot ever so slowly moved his hands and feet, and then just like a miracle, he pulled back on the controls and skyward we went. Wow!
The old adage that your heart skipped a beat most definably held true for me as I was just frozen in sensory input. Thinking back, it wasn’t the initial awe of watching the ground below getting farther and farther away, but rather, watching the pilot’s hands and feet as he magically lifted the aircraft into the sky. To me this guy was some kind of superhuman action hero. How could anyone possibly have the ability to coordinate hands, feet, eyes and brain with this mass of metal, bolts and plastic to propel us up and away like that?
Well, as you’ve guessed, aviation has stuck with this self-financed, 20-years-of-flying GA pilot. What you may not have guessed is that to this day, I’ve never in my heart lived up to the skill of that Bell 47 helicopter pilot.
As for today’s youth, I don’t know if there really is a loss of passion, but rather, kids, like water, might follow their passions on paths of least resistance. I supposed we could guess it’s the inability of the young to stay focused for more than a minute on any one thing, or the distraction with computer games and social media. To be honest, I have fallen for some pretty fun computer games myself.
I don’t know the real answer to getting youth interested in aviation as we once did. Maybe I should not worry about them, admit I am a cantankerous and soon-to-be elderly, and go along with the line by George Bernard Shaw: “It’s unfortunate that youth is wasted on the young.” But, nope, I can’t do that. Too many pilots are investing thousands of hours on “EAA Young Eagles” flights, and money for aviation scholarships. For sure there are some passionate young aspiring pilots feeding the aviation future and I refuse to believe that anyone, young or old, can’t feel the beauty of seeing “God’s Creation” from the skies above, while magically manipulating the machine’s controls.
I will continue to believe that somewhere out there is a 5-year-old who is feeling his or her heart skip a beat with the passion of flight, however it comes to them. For me, as well as for my fellow hangar flyers today, we will just step back into our spirit of youth, pull out our little aluminum and fabric birds, and feed that youth-induced passion again!
EDITOR’S NOTE: Doug Garin is a private pilot and aircraft owner in Alexandria, Minnesota.