It started with a phone call from a fellow teacher at one our middle schools. She had a student, Kayla, who was interested in aviation, and since I taught aviation at one of our county high schools, could I arrange a flight for Kayla?
This was easy since I was an EAA Young Eagle pilot for our local EAA Chapter 1240 and had provided many youths their first ride in a small aircraft. We set the date and time.
It was a clear, cool, and calm morning at the Sebring Regional Airport. The Cessna 172 stood out in front of the EAA Chapter 1240 Aviation Development Center. We had been flying many young folks for our monthly EAA Young Eagles flight day. It was Kayla’s turn and we did the walk-around the aircraft as I explained all the parts and control services. Soon she was in the right seat and I climbed in and explained how I was going to start the plane and what we would do to take off and where we would go, flying over her middle school.
As we leveled off at 2,500 feet, she looked around, spotted her middle school and many other places around town that she recognized. She was having fun and didn’t appear nervous. I asked her if she would like to fly the plane. I often do this with kids on Young Eagle flights. She stiffened up and said, “No way!” I tried encouraging her to try it, but she didn’t want any part of it, so I let it go.
After we landed, I asked if she had a good time. Her smiles and excitement confirmed that and I asked if she wanted to fly again sometime. There was quick yes and we set the time for the following Sunday morning.
Again, we had a cool, calm, and clear morning. It was not a public Young Eagle day so I had more time to share more about the airplane and aviation with Kayla and her parents. Soon we were strapped in the aircraft and I was about to start the plane. I suddenly had an elbow blow on my side and she said, “don’t start the plane yet.” I was confused and wondered if she was getting cold feet. She then asked for me to explain every dial, switch, and display on the panel. So I went from left to right and explained everything and what it did. After I finished, she said, “OK, let’s go.”
As we took off, she was monitoring the airspeed, oil pressure, and rate of climb. She was into it, sharing what she was reading on the gauges. After reaching 2,500 feet I asked again if she wanted to fly. This time she was all in.
Before I gave her the controls, I asked a question I knew the answer to: “Kayla, you own a horse, right?”
She said yes. I then asked that when she wanted her horse to turn left or right, she would lightly lay the reins over the horse’s neck and not jerk hard on the reins, yes? She said yes and I said to her it is the same with the control yoke of an airplane. I told her I fly with just two fingers and provide a light touch on the yoke. No need to grab tight and yank on it. Just gently let the airplane know what you want it to do—just like your horse. We have all seen first time fliers grab the yoke, thinking the harder they grip the safer they are. Harsh control inputs wind up having the person chase the plane all over the sky trying to over correct the last input. It’s not fun.
So as Kayla took control, she was gentle and firm with her control. We spent the morning climbing, leveling, descending, doing turns on a point. She nailed it. There was a transfer of a skill from one format to another. I have found that many youth today have excellent hand-eye coordination from video games and other activities that help in the transition to effective control of the aircraft. We are in good hands, and now we just need more young folks to get involved in flying.