Filling the gap

Filling the gap.

Gaps in life seem to be a common theme for me lately.

  • There hasn’t been a blog update in about 6 months.
  • I haven’t flown in about a year.
  • My BFR expired in June 2013 and I need to get it renewed.
  • I’m still dealing with getting up to speed in my Reserve unit after an extended gap in service.

Some areas not experiencing a gap are:

  • Civil Air Patrol activity
  • Keeping busy
  • Desire to fly

Over the last half of 2013, I got to thinking about the Orientation rides (O-rides) that CAP offers and the Young Eagles rides offered by EAA. The situation for both is after the young aviator (between the ages of 8 and 20 depending on the program) has completed the ride, what is next?  Someone who is 15 or older, may be prepared to pursue flight instruction. For those under 15, they seem to be in a state where engaging with a ground and flight school program is too soon. It happens but it is rare. How do you keep the passion for flight alive in the 10 or 12 year old for four years or more? Once bitten by the bug, maybe the interest won’t die but there has to be something offer them which is not only fun but provides an experience that will prepare them for the next phase. Pilots are always learning and why not start at age 10 and fill the gap between that first ride and their first loggable lesson?

As the Aerospace Education Officer (AEO) for a local CAP chapter, I thought about putting together a ground school for the cadets that was age appropriate. I’m not a CFI and some of the material in Ground School is rather complex. My intent was not to prepare the cadets to take the FAA written at the end of the course.  It was to introduce them to the Ground School concept and further the aviation knowledge. They get from the standard CAP materials. We can think of my idea as Ground School Lite.

The CAP squadron has an Aerospace Education (AE) topic once a month. However, there is time for only an hour and the CAP AE topic base is broad. AE topics range from general aviation to Space, Rocketry, Robotics, and CyberSecurity is beginning to find it’s way into the umbrella of Aerospace. To address the problem I was seeing, a focused program would be required.

I identified Cadets that had a desire to fly either for fun or as a profession. More than twenty hands went up. After communicating the effort, the focus, the commitment that would be required and accounting for availability two Saturdays a month for 5 to 6 months, I ended up with about 6 cadets. That is a good number for a new program to start with. Today they will learn. Tomorrow, they will teach. This Aero Team as I call them will bring the lessons they learn back to the squadron to present an hour long topic. Eventually, those twenty hands that went up will get a lesson that will give them more to think about the next time they go for an O-ride.

So I had a need identified and an idea to fill the need. How will I be able to make the material more interesting and practical? I have the course material for an actual Ground School. The PowerPoint’s do a good job of presenting the material using animations. I’m able to take a topic and present material to a level appropriate for the audience.  They still won’t understand everything. The presentations include questions from the FAA written to measure understanding.

As good as the presentations are, who wants to sit in four hours of lecture. Through the CAP STEM program and donations from a couple CAP members, I am able to offer 4 simulators. Each use Microsoft X as the simulation software and have a yoke, throttle quadrant, and rudder pedals. The cadets certainly look forward to the second off of the 4 hour program where I present a mission that includes situations related to the material presented earlier in the day.

Simulation, as good as it is for home use, still offers challenges in order to provide a lesson where learning takes place. I stressed early on and each day that we have a class that we aren’t playing, we’re using the tools to learn. Adolescent minds being what they are, there is the desire to fly the F-18 or acrobatic plane offered by the sim. After the learning takes place, I give them time to fly as they wish.

During the sim sessions I stress the concepts of following a procedure, developing a sight picture, and run through the mechanics of tuning frequencies and locating their position.  For the navigation topics, I did teach them to set the auto-pilot in order to focus or looking up and tuning frequencies, and locating their position or hard copy sectionals.

Defining success is pretty easy. I’d like to see a variety of results over the next year or two. The problem that I started with was nothing existed in terms of aviation instruction for the 10 or 12 year old after taking their ride until they took a ground school or signed up for flight instruction. The minimum age for CAP is 12. The cadets in my Aero Team range between 12 (almost 13) and 15. If they all walk away with a better understanding of aviation, the gap was filled. If they all eventually take a ground school or a few hours of flight instruction, then I have really filled the gap. I’d be happy if just 2 or 3 sign up for the Ground school offered by our local EAA chapter. If they eventually, get a certificate (LSA or Private), the collective efforts of myself and local flight instructors have done our parts to keep general aviation viable.

My intent is not to pat myself on the back or seek approval from others. If there is shameless benefit for me, it is this will prepare me for my BFR. My real intent is to offer an idea for others to consider. Is an introductory ground school for the pre-teen or early teen something worth developing? My current focus is with the CAP. After a few more refinements in the program I’ve developed, I’d like to offer it to Young Eagles participants as an EAA program through the local Chapter. Maybe that will spawn an event at local schools. One gap at a time though. But first, time to get the calendar out the phone number for the CFI and schedule time to get that BFR knocked out.

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