Aviation has opened so many wonderful experiences for me, my only regret is that I didn’t get involved earlier in life. Although I have been involved for over 38 years, I wish I had started much earlier.
When people see the activities and opportunities our youth participate in through programs such as the EAA Young Eagles and our own EAA Chapter 1240 youth working on restoring and building aircraft, we often hear; “I wish I had that when I was in high school!”
Aviation means many things to different people. Personally, I never had any aspirations to be a commercial pilot, I got involved too late to make it practical. What I have enjoyed are three things. Flying the airplane is always a thrill and I enjoy the precision of flying, having the airplane respond to your inputs and doing what you want it to do such as, landing on the specific spot on the runway after an effective side slip from an intentionally high final approach.
What is more satisfying and is the most significant, is seeing the smiles and excitement in our youth as they experience their first flight or as they get involved in an aircraft restoration / building project.
The third is the people you meet and get to know. Being a pilot, it really doesn’t matter what you fly or how many different types of aircraft you have flown, or the hours you have logged. You are a part of a very special fraternity, those who have explored the sky. There is a common bond and passion that is the foundation of those involved in aviation.
The common thread of my aviation adventures have been youth. It started even before I was a licensed pilot when I coordinated helicopter operations for the National Park Service at Mount Rainier National Park. I served as the Youth Programs Coordinator at the park. We were flying materials and supplies in the back country to support the Young Adult Conservation Corps work crews with an Army reserve unit flying Chinook CH-47 helicopters. We had use of 8 to 10 of them for the summer and most of the crews were combat veterans who could do some amazing things with the aircraft at high altitudes. The NPS sent me to school to be trained as a load master and crew member. That is when it all started and a short time later I earned my pilot’s license.
Youth came to the front again with the EAA Young Eagles program. I was an EAA member before the program started and it was a natural progression for me to get involved. It led to the development of a high school aerospace aviation class at Lake Placid High School, and the rest as they say, is history.
Our local EAA Chapter 1240 has also introduced me to some amazing aviators and more importantly genuinely nice people. Ron Owen, my dentist and fellow pilot, let me use his Cessna 150 to get me back in the air and FAA “current”. Phil Lockwood designer of the AirCam and member of the Experimental Aircraft Association Homebuilders Hall of Fame is a good friend and mentor who shares the same passion for youth development. Our chapter annual dinner has introduced us to aerobatic champion Patty Wagstaff, Tuskegee Airman and WW II P-51 veteran Lt. Col. Leo Gray, SR-71 pilot Col Richard Graham, float plane pioneer J.J. Frey, and astronaut Story Musgrave.
Recently, I joined Phil Lockwood at lunch in the Sebring Airport café as I often do. I then found myself sitting next to Harrison Ford who is also building an AirCam. Harrison was the first EAA National Young Eagles Coordinator and helped establish the program. Last year at EAA AirVenture, he flew the 2 millionth EAA Young Eagle. Just never know who you are going to meet.
Yes, it is neat to meet some of the famous folks involved in aviation, but it is just as interesting for me to chat with anyone involved with aircraft and kids. There are stories to share about the excitement and smiles that come with a Young Eagle flight.
Currently we are working to update the community partnership involving EAA Chapter 1240, The Sebring Regional Airport, The School Board of Highlands County, Career Source Heartland and other corporate sponsors to again provide an Aerospace Technology curriculum for our county high school students. This initiative will provide some exciting hands-on opportunities for students involved with the STEM (Science, technology, Engineering, and Math) curriculum.
If you are interested in getting involved or would like to support our efforts to develop programs for our youth, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 863-273-0522.