Generation Zzzz Pilots
- Erika Armstrong
As Socrates stood at the front of his class trying to teach the next generation, I'm sure Plato did something that made his teacher shake his head in frustration.
Maybe Plato stayed out too late the night before, partying with Aristotle and other philosophers. I'm sure Plato told Socrates at least a time or two that a lion ate his homework. Every generation thinks that the up and coming are less capable, less intelligent, and less motivated than the present. Just ask my dad, he'll tell you all about it. But, it's really just a matter of perspective.
Next Generation Of Pilots
To round out my life in aviation, in addition to Director of Instructional Design at Advanced Aircrew Academy, I am teaching the next generation of pilots at Metropolitan State Universiry (MSU) Denver. I have Millennials, Generation Y and Z (1980 to present) in my Aviation Fundamentals, Instrument Fundamentals, and Aircraft Systems and Propulsion classes. They're mostly first and senior year aerospace/aviation science students. You cringed a little and shook your head in pity, didn't you?
Last semester, during the first day of class, as I walked around the room talking about what they'd be learning in Aviation Fundamentals, one student in clear sight pulled his backpack to the center of his desk, fluffed it up, laid his head down, and promptly went to sleep (which will, however, be an excellent skill for cargo pilots). Was this Generation Zzzzz, living up to its name?
I wanted to pour my hot tea on his head, but the reality is that I don't need to provide any punishment. These types of students will just end up punishing themselves. They always do. That student failed the class and washed out of the aviation program because he must pass my class to move forward. It's an expensive and life changing lesson to learn. There is always this type of student (or two) in class. There have always been and will always be the best and the worst of each class and each generation. But, it's not because of the era in which they were born; it's the person that they are.
We tag each chunk of births with a name tag like Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials, and the up and coming iGen/Generation Z. Of course, our own generational name tag comes with it only the best traits, but the reality is that each name tag represents the teachings of the previous. We teach the up and coming so each generation is ultimately responsible for the next. If you blame the next generation, you are really blaming your own.
Olden Days Of Aviation Security
The current generation of pilots grew up in the aftermath of 9/11. Their view of aviation has been through security lines, TSA, barbed wire fences, and airplanes used as weapons. They grew up in an era when there are now a quarter of a million fewer active pilots in the US than the previous generations (student thru ATP. 1980 versus 2016). In the "olden days", when security wasn't a concern, airports were a place to hang out. People would sit at the end of the runway and feel the wake turbulence. Pilots would open hangar doors at the local airport, pull out lawn chairs and tell tall tales about aviation. After 9/11, rules and fear kept those doors closed and the next generation locked out of the stories, the dreams, and the aviation desire.
Possibilities In Business Aviation
It's been difficult for them to see the glory of aviation, but despite all that, it’s still there. And it’s growing again. I see their spark ignite when I talk about all the possibilities in Business Aviation. Most students reflexively think they want to go to the airlines, but with all the opportunities in Business Aviation, they're learning that it can be a career destination. I see the passion, dreams, and focus of these future pilots, just like all the other previous generations saw in theirs.
I have some of the most intelligent, funny, tech-savvy future pilots sitting in my class. I already know some of them won’t stop until they are captain of a commercial airliner. And I have other students who like the idea of it, but will never make it to the cockpit – just like all the other aviation generations.
For those who will succeed, they have learned the most basic skills; that they must haul their butt out of bed when the alarm goes off (no matter how early it is), that they must put in the time and the work, and that self-discipline creates more rewards than sacrifice. Their bonus is that since these NextGen pilots grew up in front of computer screens, FMS systems, glass cockpits, and HUDs will be second nature. They'll fly circles around us round-dial loving pilots. They understand and embrace new technology and accept that change is constant.
NextGen is the tag that the FAA placed on their program to improve the National Airspace Systems. NextGen Pilots is the tag I'm placing on this new generation of pilots who will stand on the shoulders of previous aviation giants and move aviation that much further towards safety, efficiency and glory.
Don't worry. They're still learning basic airmanship skills (I had to wipe the dust off my E6B), but they won't have to spend hours learning NDB approaches when instead, they can learn how to fly around the world on direct routes and have guidance right down to the centerline of the runway in zero visibility flight conditions. They will think that's awesome, love what they do, talk about it constantly, and keep that mischievous grin on their face that hasn't come off since the day they soloed. Just like in all the other previous aviation generations.
Thankfully, some things never change.