Sound­ings Rich kids fly he­li­copters

Air & Space Smithsonian - - Front Page - CHRIS J. BAHNSEN

BE­COM­ING A “DEN LEADER” to kids in chop­pers is not how Mark Robin­son fore­saw his ca­reer, but that’s what the chief pi­lot of Rev­o­lu­tion Avi­a­tion has been since open­ing his he­li­copter flight school in 2013. The school op­er­ates at John Wayne Air­port, which caters to the wealthy in Or­ange County, Cal­i­for­nia—where su­per-yachts dom­i­nate the har­bor, Fer­raris and Bent­leys tool up the Pa­cific Coast High­way, and par­ents want­ing he­li­copter lessons for their kids can eas­ily front up to $1,000 an hour.

Robin­son, who was raised in a mud hut by mis­sion­ary par­ents in the African coun­try of Cameroon, finds the new kind of clients sur­pris­ing. Take the 14-year-old whose par­ents have bud­geted over $100,000 for weekly lessons. “As soon as he gets his pi­lot’s li­cense, his dad wants to buy a he­li­copter so his son can chauf­feur him around,” says Robin­son, a for­mer safety he­li­copter pi­lot. “In­stead of sports after school, par­ents are putting their kids in he­li­copters. They think hav­ing a he­li­copter pi­lot’s li­cense on an ap­pli­ca­tion will help their kids get into col­lege.”

To be el­i­gi­ble for a li­cense, kids need 40 hours of flight time at 17. But they’re are start­ing as young as 12, which means, if they fly ev­ery week, costs quickly soar. “If they waited un­til their kid was 16 to start lessons,” says Robin­son, “a pi­lot’s li­cense would only run about 12 thou­sand.” But par­ents don’t wait, so you have pre-pubescents log­ging years of pricey flight hours in Robin­son R22s, R44s, and R66s. Par­ents end up spend­ing al­most as much on ju­nior’s fly­ing lessons as they would for his col­lege ed­u­ca­tion.

For the kids, there’s no glam­our in fixed-wing fly­ing. They be­long to the ver­t­i­craft gen­er­a­tion (most have toy quad­copters at home). Beyond that, they aren’t in­ter­ested in think­ing as far ahead as their par­ents do. “They don’t know what they want,” says Robin­son. “They want ev­ery­thing!”

Ful­ton test flew the YF-12A in the 1970s.

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