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Have You Replaced Yourself?

By Rich Largent, EAA 512497, Volunteer Advisory Committee

April 2015 - At 14, I entered that age when I seemed to question everything. Not an unusual disposition, as isn't that about the time when most teenagers come to the conclusion that their parents really don't know as much as they thought? Back then my issue was not with my parents. I was raised in an environment that encouraged questions and the pursuit of knowledge. My issue was with the world around me, outside of the home, a time when the o called innocence of the ’50s was giving way to the social reforms of the ’60s, civil rights, integration, the "Great Society" and a foreign policy destined to send thousands of young men in harm's way and plunge the country into a decade of self doubt and uncertainty.

On a less significant frontier, one that captured my imagination was an awareness of the impact we as humans were having on our world, our environment, and our own backyards. One of these "movements" dealt with something called "zero population growth," an effort, through education, to manage the environment by not placing an additional human burden on it. Proponents advocated this could be achieved if we only contributed one offspring per person. We would replace ourselves and go no further. The idea intrigued me. I have just one brother, so I felt as as if we had embraced the movement.

Fast forward almost 40 years. My life moved on and as a "product" of the time my experiences became part of the defining fabric of my generation. Two marriages, a "DINK" couple living in Suburbia, amassing material things because we could, my wife and I live a comfortable life. Along the way I was able to pursue a passion to fly, one which had surfaced very early in life. There were no aviators in the family history, no pioneers of flight in our scrapbooks, no inventors, not even any bird watchers. This dream was mine, but in keeping with modern aviation demographics, the dream had to wait until my late thirties to be realized.

A decade later I discovered this aviation organization with the world's longest name - the Experimental Aircraft Association. I saw the name as a bit of a turn-off. I had no interest in experimental anything and upon learning the term really defined the homebuilding of aircraft I was even less impressed. I thought I could probably build my own plane but had simply no desire to do so, so why join this group? Then I encountered Robert Swanson and the Young Eagles Program.  My whole perception of flying changed.

In recounting the tumultuous ’60s and ’70s I look back and appreciate a conservative upbringing that kept me centered from indulging in extremes. I did lack focus and it wasn't until flying and my second walk down the aisle that the ingredients for a clearer purpose appeared. Twelve hundred Young Eagle flights later, a major part of who I am is defined by the joy my wife and I found in taking youngsters aloft to see their world from a different perspective. It enriches our lives by being able to do it.

While volunteering at AirVenture last summer, Ginny and I happened upon Steve and Barbara Wilson, pilots and EAA Chapter 186 charter members who have long since moved elsewhere.  As we were volunteering in one of the Young Eagles "Green Machines,” the conversation eventually turned to the Program. In a lull, Barbara looked up and, staring squarely at me, queried, "Have you replaced yourself?" Taken aback by the directness of the question, my mind reeled for a moment. It transported me back nearly fifty years to those zero population growth discussions. Never really that good on my feet when confronted with such directness, I was amazed to hear myself quietly utter, "Well yes Barbara, I have. Actually both Ginny and I have." We know of at least two pilots that were created due to our Young Eagle flights. Both of them actually received their flight training in our airplane.

As we said our goodbyes and moved on, it occurred to both of us that perhaps Barbara had struck the proper note to furthering and enhancing the pilot community. Have you replaced yourself?  What needs to be done to inspire pilots to inspire the Young Eagles they have created to continue their flight training? EAA, Sporty's, AOPA and other groups have made bold steps in that direction.

Not unlike those provocative long-ago discussions about saving the planet by only producing one offspring, doesn't the argument hold true today for the pilot community? Flying kids is a wonderfully generous activity. Wouldn't it be great and personally fulfilling to take that extra step to be sure you have replaced yourself? A tall order, but one as a pilot that could be one of the most rewarding aspects of one's flying experience.

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