Benjamin Crabtree has had a passion for airplanes and drawing since he was a toddler. Now 12, he is too young to fly a plane, so he paints his dreams of becoming a pilot and, every year, he enters his work in an international art contest for children sponsored by the Federation Aeronautique Internationale of Lausanne, Switzerland.
To illustrate this year's theme "Flying is Fun," Benjamin, who lives in Utica, Kentucky, drew a P-51 pilot, who, as he flies, thinks of himself as a boy, playing with a toy glider. The Kentucky Cabinet for Transportation awarded Benjamin the state's top prize in his age group for his P-51 painting and sent it for consideration in the national competition.
Benjamin has won first place in Kentucky five of the six times he has entered. Twice, his paintings have placed second nationally. Two years ago, he won the silver medal in the international contest.Benjamin's brother, Jonathan, 6, entered the contest for the first time this year. His rendition of a balloon race won Kentucky's first prize for children age six to nine.
The contest's American sponsors, the National Aeronautic Association, the National Association of State Aviation Officials and the Federal Aviation Administration, hope that by recognizing children's interest in aviation and the aeronautical sciences, they will encourage more kids to become pilots.
If Benjamin Crabtree is any indication, the contest is tapping into a devoted audience.
"Flying was always a dream," Benjamin said by phone from Kentucky. "What I hope to do is design airplanes and test them myself." Benjamin says he plans to take flying lessons as soon as he is old enough. For now, he is content to study flight manuals, build models and draw.
This year, 37 states including Kentucky received more than 17,000 contest entries. Each participating state picks three winners to forward to the national level, one from each of three age groups, 6-9, 10-13 and 14-17. The national judges then chose three in each category for the international competition. Winners there receive a gold, silver or bronze medal and a certificate. The competition is stiff. Last year, 28 countries entered artwork in the international contest.
Benjamin learned about the competition from a kindergarten teacher. In Kentucky, the contest is coordinated by Dana Dawkins of the Division of Aeronautics within the state's Transportation Cabinet. The Aeronautics Division runs Kentucky's state airports. Every year, Dawkins prints and sends out flyers to about 3000 schools in the state.
Dawkins and Benjamin have become good friends. "I expect big things of him as either a pilot or scientist," Dawkins said of Benjamin. "He's very bright in aviation and aeronautics."
The national judges announced the winners March 10. This year neither Benjamin nor his brother Jonathan was on the list. Benjamin remains undeterred. "My goal is to get a gold medal and, even if I do, I will want to get it again. I want to have two," he said. He says he plans to continue entering the contest until he is no longer eligible.
This year's national winners were Emily Quick of Nebraska in the 6-9 age group; Aaron Church of Iowa in the 10-13 age group; and Rebecca Reineke of Nebraska in the 14-17 age group.
The international winners will be announced in May.
Interested participants should contact their state aviation departments.