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Airport Action: CANDLER FIELD YOUTH PROGRAM

RonAlexanderby Ron Alexander, VAA 27150

CANDLER FIELD YOUTH PROGRAM: FIRST PROJECT NOW FLYING

In December, 2013 Candler Field Museum, located in Williamson, Georgia (just south of Atlanta) began a Youth Mentorship Program. The purpose of the program is to provide a means for young people to become interested in an aviation career. The aviation community has been well aware for a number of years that the number of new pilots has been steadily declining. Along with a decreasing student pilot population, the aviation maintenance field has seen a decrease in the number of people interested in becoming an aircraft mechanic. The EAA addresses this problem through several programs with the most active being the Young Eagle Program.

IMG_9758EAA Chapters throughout the world ask for volunteers to give rides to young people in order to stimulate an interest in flying. This is a great program but the youth who become motivated to fly need an avenue to further their goal of becoming a pilot. The Candler Field Museum now has such a program. It currently has approximately 30 young adults between the ages of 12 -20 who are provided the opportunity to learn how to restore and maintain airplanes in addition to being given an opportunity to receive flying lessons. The program works in conjunction with the Candler Field Flying Club. This too, is a very active group of about 75 members who have access to four club airplanes.

This is the way the program works. Museum policy is one of ensuring that the members of the youth program can actually earn flying time toward their pilot license. They want them to actually have some “skin in the game” so to speak. They are not given anything although they do have a scholarship program in place for aviation career oriented youth who have demonstrated a need. The kids actually earn flying time by working on museum restoration projects and by fulfilling other needs of the museum. When a member of the program works 10 hours on a museum aircraft project or other museum task they are awarded 1 hour of flying time in a club airplane. This provides a means for a motivated person to work through all of their airplane ratings if they have the initiative. Nothing is given anyone except the opportunity to work for what you want.

Now, this program would not work without the adult volunteers (mentors). They are key to the success of the entire package. The south side of Atlanta, Georgia is home for a number of active and retired airline mechanics along with numerous people who have a lot of antique airplane restoration experience. The museum is able to draw upon this resource to acquire volunteers who help with teaching the kids the skill of aircraft restoration and maintenance. They have no fewer than 20 adult volunteers with a myriad of aircraft maintenance qualifications and experience. Most are FAA certified mechanics and others are people with a lot of experience but no certification. They ensure that all work is done under the supervision of licensed mechanics. As a matter of fact, one full-time employee oversees all restoration projects. This individual has all of the needed FAA certifications.

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The museum is very excited about the fact that the group has just completed their first actual airplane restoration project in November of last year. A Piper J-3 Cub owned by a local mechanic was disassembled and restored by the mentors and the kids in just over 10 months. They did an outstanding job. The craftsmanship rivals that of most professional restoration shops. Not only that, but they did all of this in just over 10 months. The airplane first flew in late October. The really great part of all of this is the fact that the youth members will all get a chance to fly this airplane. Under the instruction and guidance of flying club instructors, each student who so desires will receive flying lessons in the J-3 club. The intent is to allow them to receive a minimum of 10 hours of dual instruction (more if needed) and actually solo this airplane. The belief is that student pilots who receive their initial instruction in a tailwheel airplane have flying skills superior to those who learn in a nose wheel airplane. So, it is club policy that the students begin in a tailwheel airplane. In addition to having access to this J-3 Cub, the flying club also has a Citabria and an Aeronca Champ that is currently undergoing restoration in the program. After their initial training the students advance to a Cessna 172 to acquire their Private Pilot certificate.

It is interesting to note that a number of the youth program members have a keen interest in aircraft maintenance. They do not have a desire to learn to fly but instead, they want to learn maintenance skills. Since they work under the guidance of a FAA certified mechanic, all of the time spent working on an airplane project will apply toward their FAA mechanic license requirements. The time spent in the program will provide the kids with the opportunity to truly experience what it would be like to pursue a career in this field. It will assist them in making a career decision whether it is as a pilot or as an aircraft mechanic. Our overall objective is to help put them on a path to an aviation career.

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A side benefit of this program is that it sometimes helps to put a young person on a more straight and narrow path. As we all know, discipline is often lacking in our schools and in our homes. The youth program is a disciplined program. The kids are expected to work and to perform. They are expected to show up on time, to have a good attitude, and to be appreciative of the opportunity given them. Most of the kids are highly motivated. Watching them grow has certainly restored my faith in young people. I can tell you several instances where a young person’s life has literally been “turned around” and directed in a positive way. When they have a passion for flying or aircraft maintenance they may see for the first time a real purpose for their life. A kid comes into the program with little or no motivation and within a few weeks we see a different side of the individual – one that is full of enthusiasm. It spills over into their home life and into their academic life. We stress the importance of education in their lives and teach them what is needed to follow a career path in aviation. I feel like those of us who are volunteers receive more out of the program than the kids. To see one life changed in a positive way is worth all of the hours spent working in the program.

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