Former student Tom calls and says, "I'm involved with an experimental unit of the Boy Scouts and I was wondering if you'd help me?"
According to Tom, the Boy Scouts are experiencing dwindling numbers. In the face of "Halo 3" and other distractions, scouting seems pretty boring to kids, I guess. Tom is a leader in a program the organization is testing to try to get kids interested in technological vocations like aviation. Tom owns a nice Piper Seneca, and has already exposed the boys to his airplane... showing them a thorough preflight, then taking them on a short flight. He realizes taking a bunch of boys (and a few girls) for a ride in the helicopter would be cost prohibitive, but wants me to talk to them about what makes the machine tick... helicopter aerodynamics... being safe around helicopters... what jobs are available today... what I think the future holds for the industry in general.
I'm glad to volunteer to help and flattered that Tom would ask.
Two hours before the Scouts arrive I push the helicopter out and give it a bath. I've been givin' it "a lick and a promise" for a couple weeks now, and I'm glad to have the incentive. "Pledge" on the windshield, a good vacuuming of the interior, then a damp cloth to take the dust off the instruments, panel, and all the hard surfaces. I'm pleased when the job is done.
The group arrives. There are 8 boys, 2 girls, and 4 adult leaders. I had forgotten about the semi-military nature of scouting, and was mildly surprised when Tom called the group to attention, then put them "at ease" to introduce me and ask me to detail my background.
I'm also surprised, looking at these 16-17-18 year old faces, to hear myself talking about almost 40 years of flying beneath varied rotor blades.
We discuss how helicopters are like airplanes, and how they are different. We talk about how to avoid being dissected by rotor blades. I hand Tom the checklist and we do a thorough preflight, discussing how the various components make the machine work, and how stresses sometimes make those parts break... necessitating a good preflight.
Three of the boys are soaking all this up like a sponge. The rest, including the girls, are along for the ride... they're "punching a ticket" for some reason... to get one more merit badge? I don't know. They're not disrespectful or disruptive... they're just "there".
Finished with the preflight, I position the group a safe distance away and start the bird, then do a short hovering demonstration, to include flying backwards. When I'm ready to land, I do a hovering autorotation, demonstrating what the pilot would do if the engine failed while hovering.
Another question and answer period follows with a few more questions about my demonstration. One of the kids asks, "what does the helicopter cost?" I can tell they're a little stunned at the answer.
I explain why helicopters are so expensive, but I sense much the same thing I feel whenever I talk with the public about helicopters... although the R22 has brought the cost of flying helicopters down by a huge margin, they are still prohibitively expensive for "everyman", and I don't think we will see a helicopter in every garage in the foreseeable future.
But the industry is changing. There are more and more helicopters flying. Within five years, virtually all the Viet Nam era pilots will have retired... the industry is aware of this fact and the numbers of students learning to fly helicopters is up dramatically in the last year. One flight school is advertising on National media outlets.
I hope Tom's experimental Scout unit works. Today's video games are amazingly realistic. Kids need to be exposed to the real world those games emulate.