Individual Effort: Principal Key to New Pilots

By Scott Spangler on September 26th, 2010

Subbing for the middle school gym teacher the other day, I reported for lunch duty at the conjoined cafeteria it shares with Omro High School. There I saw OHS Principal Brett Steffen, who acted on his aviation interest and earned his private pilot certificate late last year. (See A Rare Breed: Students Who Finish Training.) He was standing next to a split-level AV cart, which displayed three R/C models, recruiting students for the Flying Foxes, aka the Omro High School Aviation Club.

Bringing the Aeronca to OHSIn between pitches to kids passing through the cafeteria, we caught up on our respective aviation activities. His were more profound. A serious, dedicated respect for aviation had replaced the gee-whiz wonder that overwhelms most students. He recognized this change in himself and said it gave him a fuller, more mature appreciation for flight, and its myriad responsibilities.

Afflicted with no other vices than aviation, chances are good that he will soon be the owner of a Piper Warrior. And as his effort this day proves, he hasn’t surrendered the dream of getting the Flying Foxes off the ground. With an Aeronca Sedan offered up for restoration by an area resident last year, the effort ran out of steam when the patron didn’t deliver the promised supplies and support necessary to undertake the projects.

School budgets being what they are these days, official funds were unavailable, so Brett sought an economical alternative that offered more control. That solution filled the OHS Aviation Club handout that itemized its extracurricular activities. Topping the list were flying the RC planes and helicopters displayed on the AV cart, building a two-place tube-and-rag airplane, and a free ground school for those interested in becoming pilots.

Visiting the hangar of EAA Founder Paul Poberezny is the club’s first after school activity. Paul is sponsoring a set of plans for the airplane the kids will build (most likely a Pober Junior Ace), and he wants them to see and sit in the finished product.

Scratch building a classic tube-and-rag homebuilt made perfect sense. Raw materials cost less than a kit, important when the students, like most amateur-builders may need to build a part more than once, and the funding comes from donations, fund raising, and the sponsor’s own pocket. The school already owns the tools needed to build it, and it provides skills, knowledge, and teambuilding benefits that go beyond aviation.

Brett will take all club members to a meeting of EAA Chapter 252 in Oshkosh, 10 miles east of Omro. “I will help you get there at least some of the time,” the handout says. “I invite you all to become a member…to get a parent involved. The meetings are fun and informative, and a great way to meet pilots and aviation fans.”

An after school Young Eagle flight with Brett is also on the Flying Foxes to-do list. This opens the door to the online recreational pilot ground school Sporty’s Pilot Shop gives to Young Eagles. “This is a $200 value that will cost you $0,” says the handout. “To help you make progress, we will set aside time here at school to work on it together so I can help you understand ‘why’ you need to know various things, and answer any questions you have.”

With assistance from the Lindbergh Foundation, says the handout’s final paragraph, the Flying Foxes will have access to a panel of experts and space online to publish what the club accomplishes. “This is a major worldwide organization with links to some really high power people who are interested in what we are doing. This connection could be very helpful to some of you who want to get more involved in aviation in your future.”

Brett’s reward for this effort, and all to come, takes many forms, but his principal drive is sharing his passion for aviation with the kids he spends his days with. It is something, he says, that anyone can do anywhere. Yes, he has the nearby resources related to EAA, but similar resources reside near almost every airport in the land, and and all it takes to get them involved is some individual effort. –Scott Spangler

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One Response to “Individual Effort: Principal Key to New Pilots”

  1. Patrick Pohler Says:

    In my mind, the Flying Foxes and other independent high-school based programs undertaken by enthusiastic volunteers is going to be the key to reverse the declining numbers of young people entering aviation.

    Thanks Scott for covering this exciting group.

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