How do we encourage new aviators?

I want you to picture yourself in a situation for a moment. You are a young, inspired student devoting the bulk of your day to lectures and studying. You spend any time you are not studying or sleeping trying to afford to put yourself through college with your part-time job. You face hefty tuition bills, increased living expenses, and very little financial assistance helping you stay on your feet. Sounds like the story of many college undergraduates across the nation, right? But there’s a twist to this one: what if you had to do all this for a career that would only be a stepping stone towards what you really want to do?

The story I just told you is the story of me. And I am only one of many.

Young Eagles flight
Encourage the next generation, but don’t .

I’m a private pilot and engineering undergrad. I worked 30 hours a week to become a pilot during high school, and I haven’t flown since last summer. My days consist of studying, working, sleeping, and eating. The goal at the end of this is to become an engineer, but not for a lifetime. I want to fly for a living.

We always talk about trying to get more people involved in aviation. We proclaim the future of aviation lies in the hands of the youth, and we must give them opportunities to become pilots. We argue that flight training needs to be cheaper and we need to create more aviation programs so it is easier for them to succeed. We need scholarships and free flight training. But what kind of solution is moving the finish line closer to the start?

The reason why aviation is such a unique community, one filled with storytelling and tales of hardship and intense heart-wrenching desire, is because there is a certain battle that is fought between aviator and aviation. The battle to succeed in the face of failure. We cannot just hand the opportunity to become pilots to our youth; you have to work to earn the golden epaulettes on your shoulders.

There is almost a kind of marathon that must be run from the day a pilot becomes addicted to flight until the day they obtain their certificate. During this marathon, we have the choice of making it easier for them. Either we can pick them up and carry them to the finish line or we can help them finish properly. We can buy them new running shoes, train them to run better, and teach them how to eat healthier. These are the proper ways to win a race.

If you are already a pilot, you can play your part in this journey. I cannot stress how important it is that every new aviator have a mentor. I was bitten by the bug when I was a young boy, and since that day I have been inspired by numerous family members and friends at the airport along the way. I would not have the drive to push on—the inspiration to continue—without the memories of hanging out at the airport, watching airplanes, talking to pilots, seeing airshows, or the occasions where I was able to actually go for a flight in a friend’s airplane for free. I still have moments where I remember these events with great detail, and they inspire me to push on.

It doesn’t matter if you just finished your training yesterday or have been flying since WWII. You don’t have to be rich; you don’t have to even have access to an airplane. We just need mentors. We need somebody who we can go to when we are stuck feeling like we may never be able to follow our dreams of flight. Talking to somebody who has been through the journey helps encourage us to press on. If we do not have that kind of support, we run the risk of losing even more people from aviation.

Remember, we are a community of aviators, and we cannot fly alone.

Michael Janik
“There is no pride in easily won medals.”

As I continue my journey, some days I wake up wishing I could just drop out of college and go back to flight school to become a CFI. I cannot do so just yet. I cannot afford to get a degree and go to flight school at the same time, so I must continuously fight to keep the magnetos alive until I can. Therein lies the battle that many aviators just like me must fight in the shadows—we must lead ourselves to a stable position in the future before we can join our brothers and sisters in the sky.

I follow the advice of my private pilot instructor even when I am on the ground. He had a similar story: going through college and graduating, only to work a job he hated in order to save up enough money to do what he really wanted to do—fly for a living. I was his first student, but he taught me more than any seasoned pilot with decades of experience and tens of thousands of hours could. He taught me that no matter how long you have to wait, you will do whatever it takes to return to the sky.

By no means should aviation stop encouraging new aviators. The experiences I had at the airport are what carved my passion for the sky. Pilots should help new aviators succeed, but we should not deny them the right to a proper race. Finishing a marathon wins medals; medals you can wear with honor and pride for a lifetime. There is no pride in easily won medals.

For all of us who cannot afford to follow our dreams just yet, we are still in the race. The aviators that have a backstory, those who spend long nights hearing airplanes pass over their heads only wishing they could be up there alongside them, are the aviators who press on even harder. Those who work for it and achieve greatness in flight will not only relish in it for the rest of their life; they will share their story in hangars around the nation.

And it is these stories that encourage the aviators of tomorrow to keep on running.

16 Comments

  • Hi Mike,

    Great article! I too am an engineering undergrad working my way toward a commercial, instrument and CFI rating. Good luck the rest of the way.

    Blue Skies,

    Chris

  • Michael,
    I think you made an important point: for many of us, becoming pilots and staying proficient is hard. And perhaps we love it all the more because it IS hard. I never made a dime flying a plane, never dreamed of it for a living. But I do understand your passion, and wish for you to achieve your goals sooner rather than later.

    • That’s true, fighting for flying is what makes it all the better. Thank you for the comment, I appreciate the best wishes.

  • Keep focused on your flying goal. Be happy with whatever endeavor facilitates your next step into this wonderful world of aviation. As an old CFI, with thousands of flight instruction hours given, I freely admit that flying has been my life’s most memorable experience. Keep A-Goin!

    • I can definitely agree, there is no experience that is anything like it. I can’t wait to fly for a living as well. Thanks for the comment!

  • My daughter started towards her dream late last year. Has 10+ hours now taking lessons once a month. She loves it. For more info visit gofundme.com/Louisville

  • Hi my name is Guy! Im a Canadian pilot, and like many of us im strugguling to get back in the air, to be honest after reading this article it’s hard not to be emotional from this reality , i had my private pilot in 2010 and flew regularly during 2 years wishing to complete my CPL but unfotunatly i went dry financially and had to find a job i hate doing, well i haven’ flown for 3 years and feel sometime that i missed the boat , but this article got a small fire inside of me burning again in focusing on getting my wing back.
    Thanks for the article writer to encourage pilots like us to never give up

    • I’m glad you’ve made that decision! I know for sure it can be hard to stay motivated at times. But it is definitely worth it after every flight to know you were able to fly again. I am also on the road to a CPL (albeit a slow one at the moment), and I hope to be an airline pilot some time in the future. I wish you the best of luck in pursuing your training. Never give up!

  • I got my private pilot cert. 50 years ago while I was a college student. It was possible through a VERY low cost flying club. Shortly after my check ride the club folded ending my active flying. After 50 years I’m back and almost ‘current’. EAA has a program for wannabes that sets up a mentoring program and 6mo membership in EAA and a free ride with a potential mentor. Unfortunately, there’s not flight scholarship, but lots of support if you want to fly. Contact your local EAA chapter and ask about Eagle Flights.

  • The Kindest thing we older and more experienced pilots can offer the youth of today is to give encouragement, enlightenment and if you have lots of flying experience in different areas of aviation be sure to pass on your expertise to those just starting out in aviation. If you don’t, everything you know will be lost and wasted. That’s why l went back to instructing when l retired from the airlines.

  • Where are you Mike? I am in New Zealand. I am seeking “outside the box” answers to training 1000 pilots by 2020. Right now in NZ there is no age limit for dual flight training. So I have been sponsoring young people to fly from school age and have setup a cost share program to lower cost per hour for qualified pilots. I would be happy to share ideas that can be used globally or talk about expanding opportunities in NZ. NZ may offer certain advantages of relatively free airspace, reasonable cost, varied terrain and weather and a modern comfortable lifestyle. I welcome dialogue.

  • Michael, you have a GREAT story. ‘Uncle Sam’ paid me to become a pilot. Below is some history on me…more than you ever wanted; but now you have it. Choices….”When Did You Know”….
    Born on July 4, 1934, living on Staten Island, when at the age of 9, I knew I wanted to be involved in Aviation. My parents helped me purchase a Thor model airplane motor…. really wasn’t much good…. would not run very well even on the motor stand I constructed…. built u-control model ‘high speed’ model airplanes… Graduated Curtis High School in February 1952…went to RPI to become an Aeronautical Engineer and in Air Force ROTC… Graduated… was in the Air Force pilot training class of 57-H…. First flight in a ‘souped up’ Piper Cub was on February 2, 1956…. Became a pilot after almost being ‘washed out’… flew B-47’s with an Aircraft Commander who flew B-17’s in WWII…. flew F-86H’s and F-84’s in the Mass. Air National Guard…worked at Pratt & Whitney, division of United Technologies,Inc. for about 40 years….. Now retired mentoring and ‘teaching’ aviation related subjects with elementary, junior, and senior high school students, and adults in Dartmouth’s ILEAD program…. Received the EAA Leadership Award in 2006, and in 2010 The Wright Brothers “Master Pilot” Award from FAA “In
    recognition of your contributions to building and maintaining the safest aviation system in the world, through practicing and promoting safe flight operations for 50 consecutive years”… Have organized
    Airport Awareness Day and Young Eagle Rally at Lebanon Airport for 4 years and Dean Memorial Airport for 14 years… continued flying in our 1976 Cessna 182 to travel, and fly youngsters to become a Young Eagle, an EAA program chaired by Sully & Jeff, pilots of the now-famous US Airways Flight 1549 ditching in the Hudson River… My last flight in our 1976 Cessna 182 (N1408M) was in October 2011 and sold in
    2012… VERY sad; but I had 55 years, 1,996 hours flying time with 1,762 take-offs and landings… much fun, challenges, excitement, and pilot-in-command time… Now, in 2014 a ‘Ground Pounder’, member of EAA Chapter 26 in Seattle, Washington co-chairing the monthly newsletter, “Wind in the Wires”, and doing mentoring/seminars on many, many Aviation related topics with youngsters and the ‘elderly’. Being in Aviation, EAA Young Eagles program (flown just under 400 youngsters),and mentoring youngsters has been, and is, a VERY rewarding experience. I’ love to ‘chat’ with you about flying, etc….do contact me.

  • Michael, I’ve loved flying my whole life! I started taking lessons at twelve years old (don’t ask me if that was productive), but it was a way to get in the air! I soloed a month after my 16th, and passed my check ride at 18. I took my check ride the same day I left town for my first semester at Ole Miss, so I had a brand new PPL burning a hole in my pocket that I couldn’t use (there isn’t a flight school or rental near The University of Mississippi). Now, in my second semester here, I’m actually working on an application that will connect pilots, students, or anyone interested to pilots at their local airport. I would love to chat with you and pick your mind. If you don’t mind, shoot me an email! flynnd.2140@gmail.com

    Great article!

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