Safety Publications/Articles

Dad Wants Me To Fly

Is The Motivation Real?

A few years ago, a father and his 16-year-old son visited our flight school, and the father inquired about flying lessons for his son. The father said the teenager, whom I will call Steve, really wanted to learn to fly and have his private certificate soon after he became eligible on his seventeenth birthday. I spent the next hour discussing what was involved in flight training and the various steps that must be taken to reach the goal of earning a private pilot certificate. During the visit Steve was strangely quiet, but the father was overflowing with questions and enthusiasm. I scheduled Steve's first lesson for the next day.

Steve and his father arrived bright and early the next day. Steve was yawning and looked like he didn't want to be up so early, but his father was eager to get Steve started, telling him how much he was going to enjoy this experience. I told Steve that I was going to spend about an hour going over some aerodynamics, the basic parts of the airplane, and the preflight. I said we would then fly for about 45 minutes. I told his father to come back in about two hours when we would be finished. As I went through the preflight with Steve, I noticed that he seemed distracted. A pickup truck went by as I was explaining how the elevator worked. His eyes followed it until it rounded the corner. A dog wandered up, and Steve knelt down to pet it. I knew I wasn't the most exciting teacher in the world, but I thought airplanes would outdo pickups and dogs any day of the week.

We got in the airplane, and as we climbed out, I showed Steve how to set the pitch angle for a given airspeed. We trimmed for level flight and did some descents and turns. During this time I performed the maneuver and then asked him to do it. Steve didn't say more than a dozen words during the whole flight - and most of those were, "Uh huh."

When we returned to the airport, Steve's father was waiting. "Steve, how'd it go?" he asked. Steve replied, "OK." The father then turned to me and asked, "How soon do you think he will solo?" "Awhile yet," I replied. After we did the paperwork and Steve got into the car to go home, I told the father of my concerns about Steve's lack of interest in flying. He said, "Oh Steve's interested all right. He just doesn't have a very expressive personality." Steve was very different than the other young people I had flown with. They were usually bubbling with excitement, and I could hardly get them out of the airplane when the lesson was finished.

I flew with Steve a few more times, and he didn't seem to enjoy these sessions any more than the first time we went up. Each time we returned, Steve's father asked me how soon I thought he would solo. Once, when his father wasn't present, I asked Steve if he really wanted to learn to fly. He nodded affirmatively. I asked Steve what his eventual aviation goals were. He replied, "I just want to take people up and stuff."

On our last flight together Steve had been staring out the side window and yawning. I reduced the power to idle, and the little Cessna's nose pointed toward the ground. Steve continued to look out the window and yawn. I said, "Let's go back to the airport."

Back at the airport I got the usual "when is he going to solo" question. I told the father I needed to talk to him alone. I explained that I didn't think Steve was interested in flying. As a teenager he apparently had other priorities in his life, and it was a waste of time and money to pursue flight training for Steve at this time. "Maybe later, but Steve isn't ready to do this now." His father said, "But he told me he wanted to learn to fly." I explained that I believed Steve knew his father wanted him to learn to fly and wanted to please him. The father wasn't happy to hear this and walked out.

I learned later that, years before, Steve's father had lost his medical clearance soon after getting his private certificate. I presumed he wanted to have his son experience the thrill of flight that was denied him. I should have picked up on this sooner.

Since this experience, I now make it a habit to have more in-depth conversations with anyone who wants to take flight training before we go to the flight line. I discuss the reasons they want to fly, the types of flying they will be pursuing, and their long-term goals. I have these conversations without parents present. Had I done this with Steve, I could have saved him and his dad time, money, and frustration.

By Richard Hiner

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