Where Do all the pilots come from?????
Impending changes in the hang gliding instructor certification
process that will (probably) make it more costly and difficult
to become certified, sparked a study of the pilot ratings issued,
their source, the effectivness of the instruction (did the Hang
1 pilot remain a member for more than a year) and the relative
value to the USHGA of big, high volume schools vs the small
schools and "back yard instructors" for the creation of a stable
base of air junkies.
Simply showing Hang 1's would not show totally valid data
for an instructor as many instructors don't bother to "award"
the rating when they know the pilot/student is well on their
way to a Hang 2 but it should show a valid trend. Did large,
"professional" schools generate most of the pilots that remained
active? That question would not be simple to answer as proximity
of the school to a good flying site would badly skew the results.
Just what should be done to maximize the number of pilots from the
pitiful percentage of people who dream of flight?
The chart below shows the number of pilots given Hang 1's
in all years on record from all and each instructor in the USHGA
to pilots who were (still) members as of 4/1/97. We specifically
included the 4 months of expired members and hope that some of
the expired members simply forgot to renew and that those past
months shown will still be valid. Ok, look at the chart----
You will note that there are a number of instructors who have
contributed many pilots (many also have a good record for ratio
of Hang 1's awarded and active pilot generated who remains a
pilot/member). Those 40 +/- instructors account for approximately
40% of our "newer" pilots. That "newer" spans nearly 10 years.
The remaining (approx.) 60% come from instructors/schools that
have given 20 or less (each of them) of the Hang 1 ratings that
are on record.
Roughly one third of the pilots/members come from instructors
who have given 6 or less Hang 1 ratings in their whole teaching
career. I think there may be an implication here that if we (hang
glider pilots, manufacturers and instructors) are going to survive
with solid members in a stable USHGA, we will have to increase the
number of instructors for, as, the way things stand at the moment,
we are not holding even. We need to keep the instructors we now
have and create new ones to fill in the massive blanks in the map
where there are none. We need instructors within a 2 hr. drive from
anywhere and that is not the case with the (less than) 140) that
had generated ratings this year when we got the data that made that
Are you curious as to who has taught the greatest number people
that became pilots? Again, for the moment we'll only look at the
H1 ratings/current members picture and callously ignore instructors
(such as me) who often "forget" to give a H1 if the pilot is definitely
on their way to a H2. The top 31 instructors are:
C THORESON Count 136
P DENEVAN Count 79
B KUSHNER Count 76
M JONES Count 75
D GLOVER Count 70
A BEEM Count 67
T HAGER Count 53
D BAXTER Count 47
J TINDLE Count 45
J RYAN Count 44
P VENESKY Count 43
J REYNOLDS Count 42
R MC KENZIE Count 42
P GODWIN Count 40
G BLACK Count 38
G REEVES Count 38
M TABER Count 38
R ENGORN Count 38
A BLOODWORTH Count 33
B CHALMERS Count 33
D QUACKENBUSH Count 33
J MIDDLETON Count 32
J HOOKS Count 30
A WHITEHILL Count 29
D GUIDO Count 29
J WOODWARD Count 29
R HASTINGS Count 29
D GORDON Count 28
W THORNTON Count 28
J HUNT Count 27
T CADORA Count 26
B UMSTATTD Count 25
Please note that this includes memberships generated after the
push for ratings and "advertising" schools that produce the most
The numbers shown in a few cases may be low and some who should
be there were "lost" due to the fact that the records are kept
with the first initial first as part of the name so if an
instructor's first name is "Robert" and half of the ratings were
signed off by "Bob", they will be listed as two separate instructors.
In some cases a school owner will sign off all ratings so that
individual will be high on the list at the expense of the instructor.
For the moment, just consider the numbers in the list above.
Add them up. THOSE ARE THE TOTAL not for a year, or two or three,
but the total current members created from the most prolific
instructors in the largest schools in the country. 1422 pilots TOTAL!
In 20 years. Now do you need to ask why we are not growing. A
number of things are implied from all this. First, we need more
instructors scattered about the country. Next, we need to treat
every new pilot as a resourse to be nurtured.That minute fraction
of a percent of mankind that want to fly need : a) a place to fly,
b)the opportunity to learn, c) competent, thorough instruction and
maybe most important d) continuing help to keep them learning and
flying safely once they have left the nest. The bad part is that
all of this has to be done at a price that doesn't scare people
away while paying us for the awsome responsibilities involved with
teaching safe, competent flight.
Aerotow will provide a solution for some where "standard" schools
are not available BUT the inevitably high cost of instruction to
produce a solid Hang 2 will probably scare away alot of the
potential pilots in that 1/1000 of 1% that are our target and
tandem training will not appeal to many. Other forms of towing
can possibly reduce the cost and there are viable ways to teach
foot launch, particularly with a static winch, that can fill the
gap where tandem is not desired. Can we increase that 1/1000 of 1%?
I don't believe we can do it safely. If we were to create the
desire to fly by any form of hype, the people attracted would not
be likely to take the required mental and physical skills as
necessary things to learn. It would be shades of 20+ years ago----
"Yeah let's fly, hey yeah that's neat" and then reality and injury
strike and they disappear into the mist.
Again, back to the pie chart while considering--1) There are no
instructors in roughly 1/3 of the country and in 27 states, there
were 2 or less instructors. 2) The total membership of the most
prolific instructors (in fact all instructors) does not come
close to equaling the drop-out numbers. 3) There were only about
140 instructors in the country giving ratings at the time we got
What do we do? That "we" includes all pilots who will ever
want a new, certified glider.
Quality of instruction does not appear to be a big problem. A
quick scan of the data shows that most instructors have a "success"
ratio pretty much in the same range. There are some exceptions at
both extremes but there may be reasons for that which are not due
to the quality of instruction but simply the nature of the school's
students or "visitors".
Availibility of instruction is an obvious problem. A person
can have had the most wonderful time of their life at an aerotow
park but if they go back to a state where there is no place to
follow up, they will not be members for long.
The drop-out numbers could possibly be radically reduced by
instructional "follow-up" and keeping the pilot in the proper glider.
That "proper glider" issue is a big one. What was described to me
as "L.Z. Culture" almost forces many pilots to go out and buy a
glider that they may not have fun flying so they ultimately quit.
So again, what do we do to increase the availability of
instruction (not put ourselves out of business) and increase the
number of pilots. The instructor certification process has to be
friendly without compromising quality. Recertification should be a
matter of safety and currency (similar to the Red Cross instructor
program). We can't afford to lose good instructors for simply
bureaucratic reasons. We need instructors to fill in the blank areas
on the map. That still doesn't help where there are no sites. The
answer to that keeps which keeps rearing its head and which I keep
on pushing aside, is summarized in the word "Towing". Although
towing is not for everyone it sure beats nothing, radically
increases the number of sites, should increase the number of flyable
days, and can accomodate both tandem, solo, foot launch and dolly
(for those who think running is too much work or physically can't
run). Systems such as static winches are relatively inexpensive.
I hate it all. I can't stand having my hands on someone elses life
with mechanical advantage such that if I screw up, I could kill them
but for those not in CA, in places like New England where weather
is totally fickle, it may ultimately be "THE ANSWER" if given some
Oh yeah, now what is the plan for changing the instructor
certification process and will it help change that pie chart?