My first time as an aviation mentor – what do I do?

I had just parked my truck in the employee parking lot at the airport and had begun walking toward the terminal when I saw a young man, perhaps 24 or so, who looked like he was uncertain about something as he approached me. He was wearing a uniform of some type, possibly an airport service one. He walked hesitatingly toward me, then, deflated, he abruptly turned around. He took a few steps toward the rear, then turned again to catch up to me.

Young Eagles
When’s the last time you mentored a young person?

I was wearing my pilot uniform and wheeling my bags behind me, so he knew I was heading out to fly. I suppose he finally got his courage up because, after clearing his throat a couple of times, he very politely asked me if I had time to answer a couple of questions. He was going my anyway so I said sure. We walked together to the bus stop, and then we rode all the way to the terminal with him talking a mile a minute. It was obvious the young man was captivated by aviation. He most assuredly had the “disease.”

I can’t tell you how long it’s been since I came across a young person who possessed the same ardency for flying that I had when I was his age. I had long ago started to believe that they no longer existed.

I won’t belabor the point here, but he was worried about his past – his police record. It seems he had gotten into trouble with drugs as a teenager, and was uncertain as to whether that criminal activity would kill his chances for success in aviation. He is now enrolled in a community college for aviation, and he has plans to transfer to a four-year school to earn a degree in the same subject.

I hope I steered him correctly, but I told him that we all make mistakes, and that as long as he keeps out of trouble from now onward he should have no trouble finding employment in the airline business in the future; I tried to encourage him the best I could in that regard. I personally know quite a few guys who have taken several long strides down that road in the past, and they are senior captains today.

Anyway, the young man and I will do some flying now and then, because 1: I am still a CFII, and 2: I need to fly single-engine airplanes every couple of months or so in order to maintain currency. So, I might as well put him the left seat and let him gain all he can.

It feels good to be a mentor. I have never been one before – at least in aviation. If anyone out there reading this has any words of advice I could give to the young man I would sure like to hear them. Seeing his passion for flying kind of rekindles my own. But I’m afraid I don’t have much fuel left in the tank; retirement is only a few short years away. It’s been a good career; I’ll miss it when it’s over.

10 Comments

  • Dave, I can tell you that without the dedication of my CFI (Bob) and his constant mentoring, aviation would have never happened for me. From basic stick and rudder to helping me buy my first airplane, down to how to set (and keep!) personal minimums, he is always there to answer any question I may have. With a huge bucket of experience, you and Bob are what makes younger people like me commit to aviation.

    One word of advice; be flexible. With work, kids etc, it’s not always easy to cut and run to the airport for a lesson. I have canceled at least as many lessons as I have taken, and as long as I gave ample notice and respected Bob’s time, it was always accepted with a smile.

    My 2 cents.

    • I have been an active CFI now for half my life (33 years!) and a mentor also for that length of time. And that is the absolutely the most rewarding endeavor I have ever been involved in! To see those young people I have helped, in whatever small measure, succeed and thrive in achieving there goals, that feeling of self satisfaction is almost indescribable! And to the writer of this article, when retirement finally comes, PLEASE don’t disengage from aviation, because new doors will open for you and your wisdom will be welcomed by young pilots thirsting for aviation knowledge beyond your wildest expectations! Flight instruct and mentor to your hearts content, sir!

  • Just the time you spent with the young man probably meant more than you can imagine. It warmed my heart to read this and how you agreed to mentor him. There are more of us out here with the “disease” that would just need someone to walk with us and give some encouragement.
    Keep up the good work!

  • Dave, as the Texas country ladies I grew up around would say, without irony, Well bless yore heart! It is refreshing to read that you are thinking about how to mentor this young man. I had the good fortune to have several outstanding mentors through my medical research and business careers as well as aviation. In my experience, mentoring is mostly *taught* in a business management environment; here is a starting point to see how it’s approached: http://management.about.com/cs/people/a/mentoring.htm I believe the principles are universal.
    My advice after many years of giving and receiving mentorship is to take a broad view: it isn’t about transferring technical knowledge– that is teaching. Mentoring may cover personal issues, emotional concerns, practical barriers to success, encouragement, how to handle people and situations, introductions to other people who can help the mentee (very important), and lots of patient and non-judgmental listening.
    I have a feeling this young man will benefit greatly from your mentorship, will remember it all his life, and– let’s hope– will “pay it forward.”

  • I appreciate all the comments, and will take heed, certainly. I’ll post under this article, from time to time, any progress that the young man and I make toward his future. Thanks, everyone.

  • The young man and I went flying yesterday – just a short flight to an airport in the next county over and back. It was a big deal; his family showed up to see him off, and they were very proud and grateful for the opportunity. The youngster has been studying, obviously; he is quite knowledgeable already about matters aeronautical. His questions are very specific and accurate. I am intrigued, actually.

  • Excellent message Dave. Below is, “When Did You Know”, more information about my flying and mentoring I have do done and continue to do…and proud of it! I was 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 previously 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”… 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… In 2014 I became a ‘Ground Pounder’,
    member of Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) Chapter 26 Seattle, WA co-chairing monthly newsletter, “WIND IN THE RIGGING, belike”, and doing mentoring/seminars on many Aviation related topics with youngsters & ‘elderly’. Being in Aviation, EAA Young Eagles program (flown just under 400 youngsters), and mentoring youngsters has been, and continues to be, a VERY rewarding experience.

  • Joel, thanks for sharing the colorful background and impressive experiences through your life in aviation. I’m glad you have been so heavily and positively involved with youngsters. But I’m afraid my background is not so brightly illuminated. I think my senses have been dulled and my enthusiasm cauterized by too many years (37) in air commerce. I have all but forgotten the joys of general aviation after twenty-seven and a half thousand hours of sitting behind the wheels of large, passenger-carrying jets. I really don’t know what it is like anymore to be involved in aviation, to fly an airplane, to hangar fly with weekend buddies, pick a destination and go to see, just for fun… Perhaps when I retire (in a short fifteen months), I’ll reacquaint myself with aviation and get back into teaching again. I do remember those good times. But for now anyway, I have to worry about whether or not I added an ‘s’ onto that particular checklist response, whether or not I called for final flaps before reaching exactly 1000′ RA and not one foot below it, whether or not I’ve had the cockpit door open one second to long, or if I’ve said anything to anyone – crew or passengers – that could in some possible way be construed to be a disparagement of the LBTGQUIRTDJKGVBCR and sometimes Y community. Sorry, but I can in no way encourage anyone, young or old, to enter commercial aviation (airlines) as a career. RUN FROM IT if you love flying.

    • Maybe after retirement, if you decide to rediscover the joys of general aviation, you can share that experience with us in Air Facts — the grass strip you found, the $100 hamburger, etc. I think it would make an interesting article.

  • Pat, thank you. After a time, I expect I will work the anxieties of ‘air commerce’ out of my system and return to the simple love I held as a youngster. There have been several moments, people, and particular events in the airline business I’ll remember and cherish. But they are few and very far in between. Now that the world has gone completely lunatic it is difficult to find peace and contentment in anything but what is, what has always been, and what will always remain true and correct. I’ll leave the specifics of what those are to each individual…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *