[headline: Common sense should prevail]
For many of us, the events of September 11, 2001, are as fresh in our minds as if they occurred yesterday. As with any significant historical event, many of us can remember exactly where we were and what we were doing at the time we learned of the attack on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and of Flight 93 crashing into that field in Pennsylvania.
In the days after the attack, I also remember President Bush standing before the nation and encouraging all of us to continue to go about our daily lives, the same as we had always done. To do otherwise would mean that, even in some small way, the terrorists could claim some victory.
We listened. We went to work, we took vacations, we attended sporting events, and continued to fly to our destinations.
What has prompted my column this month is a recent email from a member. It seems that as much as we’ve been encouraged to adopt a business-as-usual lifestyle, things are not that way for everyone. This member, a teacher, wrote to share a letter his school district received from the FAA essentially banning radio control modeling and model rocket flying on school property.
As it turns out, the school where this member teaches happens to be within an FAA established Flight Restricted Zone (FRZ) near Washington, D.C. The rules of the FRZ state that unless specifically authorized by waiver from the FAA, all flight operations, including model aircraft, are prohibited.
We all understand the need for national security and respect the job the FAA, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Secret Service do to ensure the safety of not only our elected officials, but the general public in the US. However, it seems that, in some cases, common sense should prevail as we keep in mind that we have all been encouraged to continue to maintain the lifestyle that we have always enjoyed in this country.
What makes this particular instance so concerning is that the AMA member who wrote to me leads an after-school activity teaching students how to construct model airplanes.
In his words, “This is not really an aviation class, but a class that uses model airplane building to teach basic pre-engineering skills such as blueprint reading, strength of materials, building and assembly/construction processes, use of jigs, and planning. It teaches young people that they have the ability to make things with their hands; that they can not only come up with an idea, but also execute it; and it introduces them to the wonderful world of building and flying model airplanes.
“Hopefully, it will interest these children into learning more about science and engineering and perhaps choosing a career in these fields. This will have a tremendously negative impact on all of the teachers that lead technology and engineering education classes in the local intermediate and high schools.”
AMA invests significant resources into the development of programs that enhance science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) curricula being taught in our schools. We know, and truly believe, that model aviation is the perfect stepping stone for young people to future careers in aviation and aerospace.
During the Apollo era the average age of a NASA engineer was 29. Today the average age of an engineer is 53. The aerospace industry is rightfully concerned about where the next generation of engineers will come from. The answer is that they will come from members of a younger generation whose interest in aviation was first sparked by a model airplane.
A solution needs to be found for this problem. The need for safety can be addressed without the need to stifle the enthusiasm of young people or their instructors and mentors, such as this member, who selflessly give of their time to share the love of model aviation and providing the educational opportunities that go with that with his or her students.
There’s something fundamentally wrong with having to tell a young boy or girl that it’s illegal to fly a model airplane in the US capitol. It’s not the premise on which our nation was founded.
See you next time.