Wednesday, February 29

Aviation Exploration

Working at an aviation museum, I've noticed that aviation is one of those subjects that people often don't know much about and don't know where to start learning about! 

Whether you've got a child obsessed with airplanes or a friend flying (full sized or RCs) as a hobby, trying to understand enough to carry on a conversation - let alone encourage their enthusiasm - can feel overwhelming. So when someone asked me recently for ideas on where to start, I thought back to what did (or didn't!) work for me. Here's what I came up with:

1. Air Crash Investigation
As crazy as it sounds, the best introduction I found to aviation fundamental was the National Geographic Channel's Air Crash Investigation series. (Nearly every episode is available free on youtube.) Each episode recreates the crash of a real airplane (usually commercial airliners) and walks viewers through the NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) investigation that follows, exploring the whats, hows and whys of the crash. Intentionally designed for lay people, it defines all the key terms and provides easy to understand computer models to show you how the forces of lift, thrust - and everything else - work in aviation. It's fun, can be watched in short chunks of time and will teach you a lot! (While you're there, look up the movie One Six Right - it's excellent!)

2. Aviation Themed Books
I'm a reader, so my first response when I want to learn about something is almost always to head for the library. I found that aviation textbooks didn't help me much - it's hard to keep everything straight if you're not actively applying it. But books about aviators and aviation were riveting and I picked up a lot along the way. Fortunately, you can find aviation books written for every age and reading level, as well as many in audio-book format. Here are two of my favorite titles to get you started:
The Candy Bomber by Andrei Cherny
Neptune's Inferno by James D. Hornfischer
3. Magazines/ Mailing Lists
Most major aviation groups have free websites, blogs and/or newsletters that 
are treasure troves of information. I recommend starting with AOPA and EAA. If you happen to live near one of the major annual aviation events (Sun & Fun or Oshkosh) consider heading over for the day for a little high-intensity immersion!  
4. Ask the Obsessed... I Mean, um, Professionals.
It's rare to find an aviator who won't gladly talk at length about their passion for the sky! Any aviation museum or small, local airport will have people more than happy to answer even the most novice questions and to share their experience. Call your local hobby shop or toy store and inquire about local RC plane groups as well - they're equally enthusiastic and very knowledgeable!

5. CAP or ROTC
If you try a few of the previous tips and think this aviation thing might really be for you, find out if your area has a Civil Air Patrol unit or an Air Force ROTC program. Although both will be a more significant time commitment, they offer a slew of benefits you won't find elsewhere - including free or heavily subsidized flight training and instruction! 

Have you been bitten by the aviation bug?

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