Sunday, July 19, 2020

The cockpit caper

Grand Ma Susun (left) and her daughter Sarah with Grin Kids Van (left) and Gage.
Susun's Dear Grand children, Gage and Van, were coming to Idaho Falls in July 2016 for their second visit. As usual, I was in charge of entertaining The Grin Kids, as they are known.  During their first visit in July 2015, I only had bicycles and a camping trip planned.  I decided to go all out for 2016.

While on a camping trip beforehand, I got the bright idea to get the boys inside the cockpit of an iconic 1940's Beechcraft D18S aircraft.  I dutifully went to KIDA's renowed FBO Aeromark and made a deal with operator Tom Hoff.  He agreed to let the boys sit in the cockpit if and only if they could pass a quiz with a 100% correct score.

The boys would need to know the six essential flight instruments and their purpose.  Considering The Grin Kids were all of 8 and 7 years old at the time, that was a pretty tall order.  However, I resolved to do my best and let the chips fall where they may.
Poster print.  Note the two pennies for scale. See:
First off, I found a mostly correct rendition of the aircraft's instrument panel and took it out to Hoff for verification.  He said it was "good enough."  Then I made up all sorts of "learning props" for boys their age, including hand made flash cards, EZPZ definitions, etc.

As soon as they showed up on the Salt Lake airport shuttle, I started off telling them they were going to have to WORK on this trip.  Naturally, they weren't very excited about the idea of work or study or whatever.  But once they saw a photo of the Beautiful Beech, they decided to be "all in."  And then the fun began.

We went right off on a camping trip alongside the Henry's Fork of the Snake River up in Island Park.  Our campsite was filled with thick vegetation.  Each day I hid two of the flashcards in the vegetation and the boys would have to find them.  They couldn't come back into camp unless and until they found their "instruments of the day."  Being boys, of course, they were TOTALLY "all in" on that part of it.  You should have seen them beat the bushes to find those flashcards.  And then we grilled and drilled them all day on their two cards.  The plan worked perfectly and by the end of the camping trip they were driving their Mom nuts by reciting the six instruments over and OVER again.  I think they enjoyed the "driving Mom nuts" part more so than the instruments but whatever.

When we got back home, I pulled out the oversize poster print of the D18S instrument panel and those kids were all over it.  "Where's the altimeter?"  "I see the airspeed!"  And on it went.  When I was confident they were ready to roll, I contacted Tom Hoff and arranged a time to arrive at the hangar.  Tom is tall and rather imposing and he made a Big Deal out of the quiz.  He kept a totally stern face and gave them a lecture about how he wouldn't let them into the aircraft until they passed their "certification."

He picked on the 8-year-old first while the younger brother sweated it out.  Gage ripped off the six instruments so fast even Tom was impressed.  So then Tom asked a few questions about what a couple of the gauges did and Gage nailed 'em.  Well, this really challenged younger Van and the little kid was squirming around impatient for his turn.  Tom looked at Van and said, "Now it's your turn."  The little boy chirped off the instruments just like his A-B-C's.  Man, it was awesome to see and hear.  Of course, Tom had to ask a couple of questions about the function of the instruments and Van nailed 'em just like his older brother did.
Co-pilot Van
Then Tom led them out into the awe-inspiring Aeromark hangar and those kids looked and acted like they had just entered a cathedral.  They were totally dazzled.  He opened up the Beech and ushered them into the cockpit and the kids were speechless.  It was a truly special experience for all of us and their Mom and Grand Ma got tears in their eyes.  It sure put a lump in my throat, too.

Naturally, Tom played the whole game to the hilt and gave them a big narrative about actually flying the Beech.  Those boys acted like they were listening to God speaking to them. It was incredible and a vignette I will never forget.

The boys were so spellbound they hardly spoke on the way home.  Later in their visit, I made a home grown flight simulator for them.  It was built out of scrap lumber, electrical conduit and some plastic I cut out from a pickle bucket. But it had it all: rudder pedals, control column, wheel, throttles and a fake instrument panel drawn with a felt tip pen.  Each boy got to practice take off and landings.  It was hilarious and had the adults in stitches.  Of course, being kids, their imaginations were far bigger than their small bodies.  While one boy sat in the "cockpit," the brother would make airplane engine noises and I acted as flight controller with a nasal monotone voice.  They became pretty good flyers that day.  I had made up two funky licenses beforehand.  After they showed they could take off and land, I made a big speech and gave them their pilot's licenses.  Man, they were walking on cloud nine--or maybe that should be flying on cloud nine.

I asked their Mom to interface with the pilot of their flight from Salt Lake back to San Diego.and tell him about the "Cockpit Caper" and ask if he could show the boys the modern version.  She did so and the pilot graciously agreed and the boys finished their trip on a real high note there on the KSAN tarmac.

All-in-all it was the best Kid Adventure I've ever organized and carried out.  Hopefully someday it might even spark a career in aviation.  Who knows?  One can always hope...and dream!

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