American aviator designs game-based flight training program for Chinese kids
Photos: in courtesy of Wayne Mansfield
 
Wayne Mansfield, a veteran American stunt pilot and president of a Boston-based aviation company, has visited China 16 times over the past three years since he first set foot on land in 2014.

Besides his efforts to tap into market opportunities in the country's burgeoning aviation industry, the 71-year-old with over half a century's aerobatic experience, has embarked on an initiative to help Chinese teenagers fulfil their dreams of becoming pilot.

Last month, Mansfield and his team put on an aerial banner show at the opening ceremony of the 2017 World Fly-in Expo (WFE)—a global aviation event—in Wuhan, capital city of central China's Hubei province. After the expo, he performed for local school kids, assembled airplane models with them and shared his flight stories.

In a later interview with Sino-US.com, the pilot-entrepreneur who has flown 64 types of aircraft in 23 countries globally said he felt quite excited that Chinese people love and cheer for his aerobatics performance.
 
 
On the other hand, he realized they're so amazed because, unlike the United States where people are familiar with stunt flying like banners, starboards (lighted signs at night) and skywriting, there no aviation culture in China yet. So, he hopes he could do skywriting—one of the most challenging aerobatic flights—next time when he comes to China.

Mansfield's grandfather—once a daredevil barnstormer—went through five different planes before he passed away at age 79. Wayne's parents, both experienced pilots, bought their first biplane before they got married in 1949. The family has been in the aviation business since 1929 and founded New England Aerial Advertising in 1962. Wayne has inherited the business from his parents 38 years ago and expanded it to cover wider range of aerial advertising services.

The family is known for their skywriting skills. In a previous Washington Post article, it was reported that back in the early 1960s, the Mansfield family business had become one of a handful of skywriters still in business. And Wayne was believed by his peer pilots to be one of the few in the US who could do skywriting.

Wayne Mansfield first boarded an aircraft when he was five years old, with his father behind the dashboard, and when he turned 13, he was capable of piloting planes independently. Flying, like etiquette, seems more of a family education to him.

 
“I can remember sitting in this plane with my mother. We had a speaking tube. The wind was coming and she would yell at me (through the tube), instructing me to deal with the situation. When I performed in Wuhan and the wind came in the same way, I could still hear her yelling at me,” he said, noting the training he received when he was a kid has become something ingrained.

Mansfield believes the flight training must start from an early age and from the beginning. In his view, the problem is that China's aviation industry has started at “the finish line” instead of “starting from the bottom going up” like in the US.

And it is “dangerous” if the country would just send students to the US to make them learn how to fly in America for one or two years. “They don't have the basic knowledge, the building blocks to precede to that point. So when they go there, they memorize the procedures, while they don't understand necessarily how these things work.”

It was reported previously by the Chinese media that the general aviation industry was expected to boast a market worth $150 billion by 2020, and there will be a shortage of nearly 1 million airline pilots over the next 10 years.

 
Mansfield has been following the Comac C919, a narrow-body airliner developed by Chinese aerospace manufacturer Comac. He's happy that the United States has made an agreement to certify the airplane. “This is very important because now China could compete with Boeing and Airbus.”

China's aviation growth is outpacing its labor capacity. He spotted the niche market and decided to make use of his expertise and experience. Several years ago, he and his partner, who's an expert in distance education, began to work on the “Dragon Aviator” program, which is mainly game-based and targeting small children and teenagers who dream about becoming a pilot.

The program intends to bring the learning method and educational technologies to flight training in the country. “Memorization is good, while it does not necessarily give understanding. You need to have mental agility and critical thinking, when something goes wrong in the plane, you need to know what to do, why it happened and how to avoid it,” he said.

In order to make it widely available to more young kids, the program has been designed to be web-based. The program also includes field trips to manufacturing companies like Boeing, Airbus and C919.

"It's going to take time, and then you get the most talented pilots who go to the top of the class," he said, noting he hopes the program could have the support of educational departments of the government so that the cost can be kept down and more kids can gain access to it.  

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