AOPA Project Pilot provides members with the tools to find viable flight-training candidates and support them as student pilots with the wisdom and encouragement of experienced pilots through mentoring. A student with a Project Pilot Mentor is three times more likely to successfully complete his or her training. This exciting program is available free to all AOPA members. You don't have to be a CFI to participate. All it takes is someone who wants to share the joy of general aviation and a few minutes a week to help a student along.
In his new book Rocketeers Michael Belfiore eloquently describes a pivotal act of mentorship and encouragement that led to an extraordinary moment in history. It was a beautiful CAVU day in the spring of 1994. Aerospace entrepreneurs Gregg Maryniak and Peter Diamandis had a rare day off together and Maryniak suggested taking a flight out of Princeton, New Jersey, in a Cessna 172. Maryniak is one of those guys who started flying at 16 and who has an infectious enthusiasm for aviation. He looks for every opportunity to fly and bring along his friends. Diamandis had 10 hours of previous flight instruction, but being a serial entrepreneur he was often too busy to continue his flight lessons.
All thoughts turned toward their adventure as they flew up the Hudson River corridor. Diamandis again got excited about continuing his flying lessons and told Maryniak that this time he just might finish his private certificate. They had been down this road before; Maryniak encouraging and taking him up on flights, and Diamandis getting the bug again and taking more lessons only to get busy on a new project. This time felt different to Maryniak and he thought there was a good chance that with the right encouragement Diamandis would go all the way. Later in the week Maryniak bought Diamandis a copy of my grandfather's book The Spirit of St. Louis. Maryniak was hopeful that the book, along with the memory of the perfect day of flying they had shared, would inspire Diamandis to finish his flight training.
Belfiore writes: "The book inspired Diamandis all right, but not in the way Maryniak intended. As Diamandis devoured the book he was struck by the fact that Charles Lindbergh was inspired to fly across the Atlantic by a $25,000 prize. He realized that the shift in public consciousness about aviation helped to legitimize and jumpstart the golden age of aviation more than any other single event in history. The light bulb went on and Diamandis struck on the idea that he could use a prize to jumpstart a golden age of spaceflight. This was the genesis of the XPrize Foundation. In 2004 we awarded the $10 million prize to Scaled Composites' SpaceshipOne for its record-breaking private space program in which Mike Melvill and Brian Binnie became the first private astronauts. That was an extraordinary thing to grow out of a mentor relationship."
Fast forward to September 2007, the XPrize Foundation announced the Google Lunar XPrize. A $20 million cash prize if you can send a robotic rover to the moon! How cool is that?
Encourage someone you know who is ready and talking about taking flight training. Be a Project Pilot mentor—and stick with it; sometimes the best people to mentor have the hardest time getting started. Could the person you mentor be the person to discover water ice on the moon? It's all of our responsibility to share the magic of flight with our friends, even if they aren't the person to take the title of "Last Man on the Moon" away from Apollo 17 astronaut Gene Cernan.
AOPA Project Pilot spokesman