Taking Off: How the Academy of Model Aeronautics Helps Young Fliers Earn Their Wings

Sometimes when a model aircraft takes flight, everybody takes off.

That’s one of the lessons that can be learned from the Academy of Model Aeronautics, the non-profit association that bills itself as the world’s largest community-based organization, with 200,000 members and 2,400 affiliated clubs throughout the United States and Puerto Rico, including GroupWorks’ own Las Vegas Soaring Club, the Denver RC Eagles and the Speedworld RC Flyers.

The AMA is committed to connecting veteran model-aircraft enthusiasts with young people. It’s the kind of pursuit that we know from research delivers real benefits, to both the young person and the older person. A Stanford University report shows mature adults, in particular, are boosted emotionally, physically and cognitively from the cross-generational pursuit of passions.

To the AMA, this mindset all comes naturally.

“Young people are the future of our hobby,” says Tyler Dobbs, government affairs director for the AMA.

The AMA’s Dobbs recently fielded our questions on model aviation, one of the thriving passions among our GroupWorks community. Why is flying together better? What about drones? And how do you connect a young person to the skies?

Unlike tennis or any other number of activities, model aviation is a passion that, in theory, can be pursued as a solo act. So, why join a club?    

The AMA provides members with a flying community of passionate, like-minded individuals, a sense of comradery, access to local flying sites and a chance to learn from the most experienced group of hobbyists in the country.

As a community-based organization, AMA also serves as a collective voice for its members, working closely with the Federal Aviation Administration, Congress and other government agencies to advocate for the hobby of flying model aircraft.

Why is it important to drive cross-generational participation in this passion?

Young people are the future of our hobby. Model aviation is also an effective tool for inspiring young people to explore careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics [known collectively as STEM] that are becoming increasingly vital to our future. In support of this, AMA is involved in many STEM projects through its education department, clubs and partners across the country.

AMA’s signature STEM-certified program, AeroLab, gives middle- and high-school teachers a “curriculum-in-a-box” for teaching STEM through aviation.

What if you’ve got a son or daughter who just is not a STEM kid, but is interested in radio-controlled aircraft, or RCs, for short? What’s an example of a program that might work for them?  
Camp AMA hosts over 40 teenagers at a weeklong summer camp to enjoy flying with the nation’s top radio control pilots. Campers practice their techniques, watch flight demonstrations, develop new flight skills and learn best practices to adhere to AMA’s safety code.

Drones, or unmanned aircraft, seem to be virtually everywhere. Does that include the AMA community?

Although our members primarily fly model aircraft, many have taken an interest in emerging technology and some fly both models and drones. Approximately one-quarter of new members express interest in flying drones in addition to traditional model aircraft and it is currently the fastest growing segment of our hobby. We welcome everyone who is willing to fly under our community-based safety guidelines. In fact, some of our flying sites include dedicated space for recreational drone operators.