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Troop 233

"You mean this doesn't shoot the guns?" the young man asked in mock shock and disappointment. The kids knew my Cessna 172 was no warbird, but some part of them still harbored the hope that the push-to-talk switch fired the cannons.

"Nope, that's for talking on the radio," was my factual, if lame, answer.

A friend had asked whether I'd be willing to help the boy scout troop that he advises with their Aviation Merit Badge. An opportunity to share my love of flying? Sign me up! My buddy Hal and I flew the Seagulls' fleet (an A36 Bonanza and a Cessna 172) to a nearby airport to meet the boys and let them see the aircraft up close. I'd recruited Hal not only because he's a very knowledgeable and generous-spirited man, but also because he's a former Naval aviator who had served on the aircraft carrier Hornet back in the late '50s. The Hornet is now a floating museum in Alameda, California, and the scouts had done part of their merit badge training on that ship. I thought they might appreciate the connection, and I was right. Hal got the only applause of the day just by walking into the room!

"I brought a model of the airplane I flew during my tour on the Hornet," Hal told the boys, showing them a plastic model of the F9F Cougar that he had flown as a 23-year-old junior officer. He described what a catapult launch and an arresting-gear landing felt like.

"You went from 0 to 120 miles per hour in about three seconds on takeoff. On landing, you went from 120 miles per hour to 0 in about the same time. You know those wild rides you've been on at Disneyland or Great America? None of them comes even close!"

The kids got it.

The main purpose for the event was for me to give a presentation about pre-flight planning, the last topic the scouts had to learn about to earn their badge. It's tough to keep teenage boys interested in a weight-and-balance spreadsheet when there are cat shots to talk about, but I did my best, trying to keep things moving along.

When we took them out to the airplanes, though, they perked right up. We divided the group in two, so each kid got to sit in the cockpit for a few minutes, getting a brief tutorial on the flight controls, instruments, and anything they had questions about (mostly the guns).

"Thanks a lot for helping out today," I said to Hal as things were winding down.

"I've had a great time. They're a great group of guys," said Hal, as we prepared our airplanes for the short hop back to our home airport. Hal and I both love to share our passion for aviation with anyone who shows signs of interest. We were pleased that the boys made the effort to ask questions.

As we were about to leave, the young man who'd been asking the most questions thanked me, saying, "I learned a lot today."

Now that's a good use for an airplane.

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