What Makes General Aviation “Worth it” from the Perspective of a Millennial
By T.S. “Max” Platts, VAA Administrator, VAA Lifetime #722088
I started learning how to fly in 2006 during my junior year in high school. For me, this was a realization of a lifelong dream, having been completely obsessed with aviation since I was in the fifth grade. My parents were both pilots, and even though they didn’t fly while I was growing up, they still were very supportive of my decision to start flying lessons. There are very few options for places to learn to fly where I grew up in Wyoming. So I finally settled on joining a flying club in Laramie, which was 100 miles away from home. I didn’t go out for football my senior year (a serious faux pas in a small town with a successful football program) and worked every day after school at the local grocery store to finance this endeavor. Finally after getting everything in order, I took my first lesson and I was hooked.
From that point on it was a whirlwind of flight schools and ratings with the ultimate goal of becoming a corporate pilot, the tip of the spear, flying wealthy businessmen across the world high in the flight levels without ever really seeing the countryside. I was so focused on getting out of the Skyhawks and into a Citation that I never took the time to really enjoy general aviation for all it had to offer.
This all changed when I moved out to St. Louis in 2009 to finish up some of my ratings. I rented a room from a family friend who was a regular at the Creve Coeur Airport. She took me out to the field and introduced me to all of the locals. Before long I was spending the majority of my free time becoming a professional airport bum and learning the art of hangar flying. Creve Coeur is also a sort of Mecca for vintage airplanes and while I had always really liked aviation history and old airplanes, this place transformed my appreciation for these machines into a complete obsession! I was soon indoctrinated into the antique airplane culture attending fly-ins, pancake breakfasts and finally enjoying aviation at its purest form.
Another turning point in my aviation career was getting my tailwheel endorsement. I started at EAA as an intern four years ago this month, and I was determined to come away from the internship with some shining new skill. I asked around and was quickly referred to Steve Krog, who owns a flight school in Hartford, Wisconsin that operates J-3 Cubs. I was in love! Going from flying airplanes with tons of instruments and GPS’s to this simplistic airplane that didn’t even have a starter was a truly rewarding experience. Coming from the “professional pilot mill” flight schools it was a point of pride to be flying around the country in this 70 mph airplane with just a map and a compass, looking down (more like looking up at them from my 500 foot station) on those people blindly following the magenta line.
If you fly these old airplanes you must go to fly-ins! There are tons of fly-ins across the country and if you fly an antique in, you are an instant celebrity. People want to know about the airplane and what it is like to fly, or they themselves used to fly them years ago. The fly-ins centered on antique airplanes are the absolute best. The Vintage area at Oshkosh is full of people that are stewards of these airplanes and are more than willing to take time to talk to people that show an interest in the machines. The Antique Airplane Association Fly-in in Blakesburg, Iowa is another must see. It is the quintessential grassroots pilot experience. Flying into a congregation of priceless antiques that have come from all over the country to gather at a grass strip in the Midwest is truly a marvelous experience. Blakesburg is a place that takes you back in time. People are flying from dawn to dusk, hopping rides and just enjoying the summer in their airplane.
I know it has been said a thousand times before, but the best part of the vintage airplane community is by far the people. I have had the pleasure of meeting so many wonderful people that are willing to offer up support, advice, rides in their airplanes or a good flying tale. The community embraces newcomers with open arms and once you are in, you are family. Around the same time I started learning how to fly, my father purchased a Stearman project. In a short period of time, people were coming out of the woodwork to offer up help with restoration and just to see what we were working on. Neither Dad nor I had any experience working on airplanes and we soon found ourselves surrounded by a loyal network of technical advisors and people checking in to see the progress of the project. I have met many lifelong friends at fly-ins across the country and it all started with talking flying or a quick spin around the patch in the airplane.
Most young people who are involved in aviation are caught up in the thinking that the newest technology is the only way, but the primary reason for this way of thinking is because they have not been exposed to all of the fun and excitement that general aviation has to offer. I have taken many of my flight school friends for a ride in the Cub or the Clipper and they all have the same reaction: a permanent smile and a newfound appreciation for these airplanes. I was fortunate enough to fall into this community and I have enjoyed every minute of it, but there are many other young pilots that have not been as fortunate to have these experiences.
So as stewards of these airplanes and this community, the next time you see a young person at the airport, invite them to go flying or give them the grand tour of your flying time machine. By doing that, the family of vintage aviators will continue to grow.