Preparing the next generation |

Preparing the next generation

U. Earl Dunn

They earned their living by building and repairing bicycles, but their passion was to fly.

Today, the same passion that fueled the grand experiment of Orville and Wilbur Wright at Kitty Hawk, N.C., more than 100 years ago brings scores of men and women to northern Nevada airports seeking the opportunity to fly.

But many certified flight instructors who teach at airports such as those at Reno, Stead, Carson City, Minden and Elko are growing increasingly concerned that rising costs and what some see as a waning passion to soar above the Silver State could result in a decline in student pilots seeking their license.

Among those who register such concern about where the next generation of pilots will come from is Thomas Hill, a Reno attorney who has been flying as long as he can recall. He is the education outreach chairman for the Reno Air Racing Foundation, and his passion is to help foster programs throughout northern Nevada that will open the world of aviation to scores of young people.

Hill says this means reaching young kids while they are in elementary school and then helping sustain their interest through aviation-related activities that will follow them into high school and beyond.

The foundation has already donated thousands of dollars in grants and scholarships to foster math and science programs, both in schools and through a program called the Young Eagles. Under the auspices of the Experimental Aviation Association, there are more than 1,000 Young Eagles chapters nationwide, including chapters in Reno, Carson City and Elko.

Hill, who has formed an umbrella organization called Pathways to Aviation, says he wants to see an aviation-related curriculum developed, either in classroom instruction or in clubs, in every school.

“There is a need to fill the gap between young children and older youth,” he says. “I would like to see at least one math or science teacher at every school throughout northern Nevada get on board to promote an interest in aviation. We need to get more science and math as it relates to aviation into the schools and colleges.”

Hill already has been instrumental in getting an Aero Club formed at the University of Nevada, Reno.

“The EAA Young Eagles is a great program,” says Trent Moyers, outgoing president of the Nevada Airports Association. Moyers is also director of the Elko Regional Airport, where he says the annual airport open house each September draws in a lot of kids. “We also have the Civil Air Patrol here and there is always a lot of interest. The kids get free flights and we introduce their parents to opportunities to become a part of aviation.”

Ginna Reyes is president of El Aero Services, a fixed-base operator at the airports at Elko and Carson City. Her company says the Elko Sky Fair is more than just giving kids the opportunity to fly.

“We show them a video of what aviation is all about and then they receive flight orientation with a pilot and static aircraft. The pilot explains different parts of the aircraft and how it works aerodynamically. Then that young person gets a free flight. We also encourage their parents to get them involved with our local EEA group,” she says.

Reyes says the Carson City EAA chapter operates out of a hangar at the Carson City airport and actually involves young people working to build experimental aircraft.

“They do this from the ground up and are now trying to expand into a bigger hangar so they can have several projects going on at the same time,” she says.

Learning how to fly an airplane, however, is definitely not a cheap proposition.

“Would we like to see more people getting into flying?” asks Elko’s Moyers. “Absolutely! Is it becoming cost prohibitive? For some, the answer is yes. There is the cost of fuel, aircraft rentals, the cost of flight instruction all of these costs are keeping some people away. When you have disposable income that keeps shrinking, the person who just wants to fly recreationally finds lessons tough to justify.”

Still, those who have a passion that won’t be quelled will continue to be drawn to the skies.

Patrick Johnston, owner of Northern Nevada Aviation based at Reno-Tahoe International Airport, says there is a hard-core group of individuals out there who, once they have experienced flight, cannot let it go until they possess their own license.

“No one gets into flying thinking it is going to be cheap,” he says. The average cost for a beginner to complete the required training to earn their license runs between $10,000 and $12,000, but Johnston says actual outlay depends upon the determination and preparation demonstrated by student pilots.

“My chief pilot and I sit down with our students after the first five lessons and discuss with them how they are doing,” Johnston says. “If we have had to do the same lesson two or three times, that tells us the student is not studying the ground manuals. They are trying to learn something while flying they should have learned in the book and we can tell if they have the ability to absorb information while actually flying the plane.

“If we are going to turn you loose in an airplane, you need to know a lot more than how to go up and down or turn left and right. If they don’t prepare themselves before they arrive at our facility, we tell them they need to double their budget because that’s what it is going to take. You can’t teach someone how to fly. You can only coach them along. Those students who are ahead in their book work are the ones with the highest success rate,” Johnston adds.


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