Date of Graduation

5-2021

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts in Journalism (MA)

Degree Level

Graduate

Department

Journalism

Advisor

Larry Foley

Committee Member

Frank Scheide

Second Committee Member

Colleen Thurston

Keywords

aviation, aviation history, case study, documentary, family business, regional studies

Abstract

For sixty years, a Northwest Arkansas family has dominated the world of general aviation by drawing upon its wealth of expertise, innovation and exceptional talent. Jim Younkin, an electrical engineer, invented an autopilot series that revolutionized the industry. His son, Bobby became one of the top aerobatic pilots in the world and Jim’s grandchildren, Matt and Amanda, also became critically acclaimed performers in the air show business. Like his father, Matt is ranked among the best of pilots in the industry. Jim also received national recognition for his stunning recreations of and restorations of historical aircraft. Bobby operated Younkin Airshows, until he was killed in a mid-air collision in 2005. Following the tragedy, Matt and Amanda continued to operate the company. During this time, Amanda married air show pilot Kyle Franklin and they created a new act together which operated under his business. Tragically, Amanda died, after the Franklin plane crashed during a performance in 2011. Because the Younkin’s story is at the intersection of at least three theoretical research fields, it serves as a unique model providing important research information. This 52-minute film will detail the Younkins’ story and their significant contributions to aviation history, by approaching it through the lens of family business theory, performance theory and performance psychology.

Because family business is considered the dominant form of enterprise in the U.S. economy and the issue of succession is one of its most important aspects, how the Younkins handled the continuation of their airshow business was of particular significance. As a family business transfers from the first generation to subsequent generations, its success rate diminishes. Despite the loss of family members from two generations in less than six years, Younkin Airshows has continued to thrive with Matt in the primary leadership role. In seeking to understand how this family was able to overcome the statistical odds and sustain their business, the qualitative interviews with Jim, Matt and Jeanie Younkin were crucial. Each of them provided key insight into the family dynamics of the group, particularly, Matt’s interview as he explained the physical and psychological factors that contributed to building family resilience. This resilience was also the result of a high level of trust between family members that had developed through intergenerational leadership within the family business and allowed them to overcome adversity. In addition, they shared a desire to preserve the Younkin family “brand” and experienced high levels of job satisfaction as they each contributed to it with their individual talents.

Finally, through a shared passion for aviation augmented by high levels of resilience, trust and job satisfaction the Younkin family’s ability to rise above the tragedies that accompany a high-risk occupation are clearly demonstrated in this film. It will provide a unique case study in future research where family business theory, performance theory and performance psychology theory intersect.

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