Rachelle Haughn interviews Bill Pritchett

The Other Side of the Tree Line Article by Rachelle Haughn. Photos supplied by Bill Pritchett. Featured in the Summer 2013 issue of Park Pilot.

AMA Education Director Bill Pritchett is excited about the new AMA program, Flight School. This is an online tool that helps pilots of all ages, genres and skill levels learn more about model aviation and the principles of flight. The program, originally launched for youth, has been expanded to include a new educational trailer, an option to text AMA (at 88769) to connect to the organization’s website, tools to earn accreditations, resources for educators, and the introduction of youth ambassadors Nick Maxwell, RJ Gritter, Bret Sanborn, Dan Landis and Andrew Jesky. Park Pilot contributor Rachelle Haughn recently had a chat with Bill to help our readers learn more about this program, which they can access with the click of a mouse. To experience this new resource, visit amaflightschool.org.

The Interview

RH: Hi, Bill. Please tell me about the AMA Flight School program. How did it get started, and when and how has it evolved? BP: Flight School is the result of a collaboration with The Basement TV in Indianapolis. We felt that there is a tremendous amount of information that AMA has, but it is not easy to find. Flight School launched at AMA Expo 2012 with two interactive games. It’s been a challenge to gain traction with people of all ages. Almost right away, the initial impact was huge, but we’ve had some growing pains in making it an online resource for all ages. Those interactive games resulted in two American Advertising Federation ADDY Awards for Basement TV’s work. Flight School answers the question: How do I? The look and feel of Flight School is completely different from modelaircraft.org. We are putting content into it every day. We are grandfathering Sport Aviator, which won’t be live anymore. We will now redirect people to modelaircraft.org or Flight School. We will have an online Learning Management System by the end of the year. This will allow people to take courses online, such as a contest director test, and other tests associated with turbine and large model aircraft waivers. If you search for how to fly model aircraft, AMA doesn’t even show up. Flight School fills that void. Learning is not limited to children, and I hope that Flight School resonates with people of all ages. RH: Who can benefit from Flight School? BP: First of all, it’s a huge member benefit in that information is easier to find and use. Those in the general public who want to learn more about model aviation will benefit from the program. Educators can also use it to access AeroLab, and it could be used as a platform for a postal contest. Modelers used to build rubber-powered aircraft, mail them, and clubs would fly them and determine the winner. Through Flight School, it would be all virtual and online. We could track the people who are building them. They could build airplanes on a browser and a lot of people could try them. It doesn’t use a very involved computer-aided design (CAD) program, so it will be easy and fun for all. We plan to launch this later this year. RH: Is Flight School generating traffic? BP: We’re getting more than 1,000 unique views (first looks) a week, and that’s pretty cool. We’re at almost four minutes per view. That’s a long time. RH: How can Flight School benefit AMA members in the Park Pilot Program? BP: We have no expectations for size, weight or power systems. A lot of the programs on Flight School use park-style airplanes, some they can build out of foam — $50 and they’re in the air. We have instructions online about how to fly foamies. The information on Flight School is primarily video. It’s not about opening a PDF and reading for hours. RH: What else would you like to see changed or added to the program? BP: Club content. It should be a resource for clubs to use to find flying-site grants, to create club rosters, and for gold and silver clubs to add videos about getting and keeping flying sites. Last year, AMA had $31,000 in Flying Site Assistance Grants for clubs. We only gave away $14,000 because people didn’t know about the program and didn’t apply. With Flight School, we anticipate more club and more AMA scholarship applications. Modelaircraft.org should be the hub of the wheel. It should take you to Model Aviation, the Library and education. If you get on modelaircraft.org, you’re not there to learn; you’re there to find something. I’m hoping that Flight School fills that void. RH: What is your role in the program? BP: AMA New Media/Web Designer Mark Benson and I hit it off real well. Mark is a creative guy, and really passionate about kids and learning. He introduced me to The Basement.
Bill Pritchett, Director of AMA Flight School (left) with longtime friends Wayne Newton and fellow trumpeter Dave Wisler at the Indianapolis 500 Awards Banquet in 2010.

This walk-in exhibit is the AMA Mobile RC Experience. Inside the huge unit are five RC simulators and big-screen monitors. Outdoor features include lighting and sound systems, and big-screen capacity for make-and-take visuals. This exciting exhibit travels to flying and other crossover events across the country.

RH: Tell us a little about you, your job at AMA, and your modeling background. BP: I’ve been here for three years. I worked for 32 years as a high school band director in public schools, and when this job was advertised in Model Aviation, I spoke about the position with Lisa, my wife. She thought I should apply, and I did. I’ve always loved flying model aircraft. My dad was a private pilot. He got into CL and shared it with me, but he was really terrible at it. When I was in middle school, two or three of us in the neighborhood got Cox PT 19s and flew all day. In 1968, in eighth grade, I tried RC with a DeBolt Champ with a Veco .19. Then I went to high school, played football and baseball, and got into girls and cars. Playing the trumpet was always natural for me. I thought I’d finish high school and get a baseball scholarship, but after seeing a Ball State University Wind Ensemble performance at my school, I went to Ball State, auditioned and got into music school. I played the trumpet professionally, traveling with the Jackson 5, the Spinners, the Temptations, Wayne Newton, Red Skelton, Bob Hope and Jerry Lewis. I played at Richard Nixon’s inauguration, and danced with Spiro Agnew’s wife. I did a bunch of recording for a gospel group, the Gaither Trio. I finally tired of life on the road, and got a job in a public school. I miss it, but I miss the guys more than I miss playing. I really like what I’m doing now. It’s been three years since I’ve played a note. My eight kids enjoy music. I’ve been married for 10 years. It’s a blended family. All of my kids are the love of my life. My youngest son, Greyson, is eaten up with flying models, and wants to get into competition. My eldest daughter and her husband own a full-scale airplane, and my eldest son is also an RC helicopter pilot. He flies with us a lot.

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