Cadet or Barnstormer?

FlyBoyJon.comThere seems to be two classifications of aviator, the Cadets and the Barnstormers.

I am not referring to any specifics with these names. It has nothing to do with where they trained, what certificates they hold, where they fly, or what they plan on doing with there flying career, nothing to do with age or upbringing, nothing to do with socioeconomics, nothing to do with any specific reference point at all really. It’s all about personality.

Looking at the aviation community as a whole, it seems that there are two primary personality types that emerge. First off there are the Cadets; Cadets are cocky, sometimes pretentious aviators, most often aspiring to be an airline captain who do whatever they have to to reach their goals, as long as they can look good doing it. They are usually precise, well educated in the trade they have chosen and when it comes to anything about flying the “big iron”, but often they dismiss anything that doesn’t relate directly to the goals they have set for themselves. This group is not exclusive to wannabe 787 pilots, they can be found anywhere, and not just in transport aviation.

They are not bad pilots, quite the contrary, they are usually very skilled flyers and navigators. The down side to this persona is the cliquish nature, that high-school or college jock “you don’t count if your not one of us” vibe they often put out. It doesn’t seem to be intentional, it’s just that personality type.

Then there is the Barnstormer. I chose to use this term mainly because it seemed to be in opposition to the Academy Cadet perception. In this sense I am not referring to the Barnstormers of years past or the few Flying Circus aviators of today, I am thinking more of the spirit of the Barnstormer. This personality type may have been an aviator long before they ever took the controls of an aircraft. Steeped in the culture of flying, hanging out at airports, chatting with other pilots, absorbing anything and everything about aviation as a whole and sharing with anyone who will listen.

There are a lot of Barnstormers in transport aviation, you might even say that some of the best Captains and trainers are Barnstormers. The Barnstormer is welcoming to any and all who wish to share in the love of aviation; more concerned with getting from point A to point B safely and having fun along the way rather than making it “on time”, it is the journey rather than the destination that counts.

Both the Cadet and the Barnstormer understand safety, preflight planning, weather and there importance, there is just a different attitude. One is not better than the other, they are simply different. As an aviation instructor, now recognizing what I should have been looking for as a student, I can better inform students about their own path. Being able to guide students down a path that is more suited to their own personalities and career goals.

I started out learning from Cadets, in an Academy no less, learning quickly that I was not suited to the cliquish social structure of the Academy environment. Later I was fortunate to learn a lot from Cadets and Barnstormers alike teaching at another school side by side. I was privileged to work with both in the same side by side environment. In the Fundamentals of Instruction (FOI) one of the basic principals of teaching is understanding a students motivation for learning; along with motivation, understanding their personality will help the instructor and student make some important informed decisions.

All to often, instructors go for the “sale” rather than playing their role as a mentor by giving a beginning or perspective student the heads up that they may be better served by another instructor or school with a matching personality. I have seen this more often in Academy programs than smaller schools and individual instructors but it does happen in both.

I have committed myself to being an aviation evangelist to the general public and only teaching students who fall into a specific category. I am best suited for primary and continuing students looking to build a career in non-transport aviation; not airline pilots, and not recreational flyers. This narrows the field considerably for perspective students and I don’t see that as a problem. There are a lot of really good career instructors out there that thrive teaching primary students with recreational goals and Academy programs to teach future 787 captains.

One aviation area I would very much like to see expanded is the community of career instructors. Organizations like the National Association of Flight Instructors (NAFI) are a good start. My concern is that there doesn’t seem to be a lot of at-large interaction between instructors beyond the geographically local training areas, and instructor forums online are more frequently visited by students looking for tips-n-tricks rather than instructors talking about instruction or instructor gatherings. If you are an instructor, join NAFI and become more active in the instructor community, communicate beyond your instructional geographic boundaries, reach out, this is the best way for us to support each other and our profession.

For me, aviation is about the journey, and sharing that journey.