Young Pilots: Up to now, I’ve focused on unusual aircraft, and taken the pilots for granted. As you do. However, there’s one class of pilot that I feel deserves special mention as an aspect of alternative aviation: children. Kids can do amazing things, and aviation is not excluded. Probably the most famous juvenile aviator was Vicki Van Meter, who started flying when she was ten, and began racking up records at eleven, when she became the youngest pilot to fly across America in 1993. She crossed the Atlantic the next year at the age of twelve. The Guinness book people subsequently closed all their categories for youngest pilots on the grounds of undesirable risk. Even so, attempts were made, and not everyone was lucky. Infamously, Jessica Dubroff died in a crash at the age of seven. At the time, her instructor was at the controls, but Jessica had received over thirty hours of flight training. After her accident, a law was enacted to prohibit underage trainees (that is, kids too young to hold a pilot’s licence or student pilot permit) from making record attempts. More recently, Haris Suleman, a seventeen year old with a freshly issued pilot licence, died while attempting to fly around the world for charity. I don’t think the problem is the youth of the pilots. I think it has more to do with the pressure of trying to make challenging flights to set records, with inexperience as a contributing factor.
Tech Level: Some aircraft are much easier to fly than others, and the simplest ones are not likely to be the ugly ducklings I’ve been featuring in this glossary. Basic training aircraft work best for this sort of thing. For genre fiction, let’s say Young Adult and Middle Grade.
Appeared In: I’ve already mentioned Emergence, by David R. Palmer, which features protagonist Candida Maria Smith-Foster as the eleven year old pilot of an ultralight. In Windhaven, by George R.R. Martin and Lisa Tuttle, Flyers come of age and take their parent’s strap-on wings at the age of thirteen. I researched this topic for my own SF novel, in which glider pilots have to be light, and girls are recruited at fourteen or so. Release of Avians is scheduled for 2017.
For Your Plot: All the thrills of alternative aviation, plus the added risks that come with inexperience. There’s an old saying that there are old pilots and bold pilots, but no old, bold pilots. Reverse engineer that, if you like.