05/08/06 — OPINION - Today's youngsters

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OPINION - Today's youngsters

By Gene Price
Published in News on May 8, 2006 1:46 PM

"What is this younger generation coming to?"

It was a lament -- not a question -- many of us now senior citizens used to ask. Mostly it was a reaction to the emergence (or explosion) of the hippie cult.

As it turned out, most of them did pretty well. Some are now U.S. senators, not the least of whom is Hillary Clinton, whose performance has earned bipartisan respect.

We also were worried about youngsters spending too much time playing video games in the arcades -- and later at home when everyone could afford fancy computer programs.

I had the opportunity to go to the Persian Gulf during the first Gulf War. When the time came, Iraqi forces were overwhelmed and sent packing from Kuwait largely by U.S. air power.

Fourth Fighter Wing commander Col. Hal Hornburg, who later retired as a four-star general, told me, "These airmen are the same kids we used to worry about spending too much time playing computer games." High-performance aircraft use a lot of computers.

My all-time favorite camping, fishing and bird-watching partner is my granddaughter Sarah. Since age 5, she fished with me at Sleepy Creek, and we camped outside my cabin on Goose Creek Island. That way we could watch the sky and listen to the night sounds.

Just for fun, we were sitting in the boat up Lower Spring Creek one night, marveling at the stars and listening to the critters and the fish jumping. Suddenly a mullet jumped right into Sarah's lap!

Perhaps it was Sarah who made me stop worrying about "this younger generation."

A few days ago, I had the opportunity to be in a huge, rolling pasture near Durham. Three teams of N.C. State aeronautical engineering seniors were conducting a field day. They had brought with them some small jet aircraft they had designed, built and were to fly -- or fail their course!

The designs and contruction were incredibly detailed -- and proven (in the classroom) by calculations, wind tunnel tests and whatever.

They were to be flown with remote controls by a professor who was a veteran test pilot.

The first aircraft was a modified flying wing, somewhat similar to the B-2. Its unique jet engine was designed to enable it to be flown, if necessary, even without using the conventional control surfaces.

With a roar reminiscent of the distant jet sounds from Seymour Johnson AFB, the little aircraft soared into the sky, maneuvered beautifully around the field and over the woods, made a few passes -- and landed gracefully.

Those gathered beside the runway cheered and applauded.

But none louder or more enthusiastically than a bearded old fellow beaming at the leader of the team that had designed and built the little jet aircraft.

My Sarah leaves shortly for Cincinnati to work in General Electric's Edison division doing research on engines for future jet aircraft. She was given a two-year work-study contract that will enable her to get her master's degree.

Even as the field day was under way, members of all three teams were being button-holed by representatives of aeronautical engineering firms wanting to recruit the brightest of the young folks coming in the market.

What is this young generation coming to -- and where are they going?

Not even the sky is the limit.

My only concern is not for my Sarah and her future, but that Cincinnati is so awfully far from Goose Creek Island.