Model airplanes were the test vehicles for full-scale aircraft. As far back as 1871 Alphonse Pénaud built a successful rubber powered model airplane and in the process demonstrated aerodynamic principles that were important in future aircraft of all sizes. In the United States Samuel Langley spent much effort working with model aircraft in preparation for creating a full-scale airplane.
There was an article in the Chicago Tribune many years ago that 32 of the 33 astronauts had an interest in model aviation. Probably the most famous airline pilot Chesley Sullenberger who’s extraordinary piloting skills saved all the lives on an Airbus A320 by landing it without power in the Hudson River had an interest in model aviation as a boy.
In current times with so many young people with almost no exposure to even model airplanes, and I know, because of the model building classes I teach; not enough young people have an interest in pursuing a career in aviation. When there is already a pilot shortage and a company such as Jet Blue is willing to train people with no pilot skills I think this indicates a severe problem for the future.
Chicago Tribune Archives Article
Wikipedia Chesley Sullenberger
Jet Blue Launches New Pilot Training Program