By CONNIE SUE WHITE
When Civil Air Patrol Seminole Composite Squadron Deputy Commander Kenny Eads asked a group of five cadets to volunteer for a unique mission, it caught on like wildfire. The assignment: build the first-ever Fire Hub on the SUN ’n FUN campgrounds.
Eads explained to the young men that it would the be the first of 50 Fire Hubs planned across the United States as part of the Recreational Aviation Foundation’s latest fund-raising initiative to help support the organization’s mission to “preserve, protect, maintain and create recreational airstrips across the country.” People would be able to show their support of the effort by purchasing a brick that they could have their name, N-number or even a dedication engraved on before setting it into the Fire Hub.
Even more important, though, was the hope that the Fire Hubs would attract pilots and aviation enthusiasts by giving them a common place to gather at the end of the day to share their stories.
The cadets — all in various stages of flight instruction — accepted the opportunity with the enthusiasm special to youth, despite it meaning they’d each have to sacrifice a chunk of their spring break.
“We jumped right on it,” explains 16-year-old Nick Owen, who has been a cadetfor three years. “It looks amazing and I’m happy we helped on the first one to be made.”
The boys toiled for eight to 10 hours each day over the course of three days, shoveling out and hauling away approximately 10 yards of soil to create the pit for the hub, then backfilling the pit with some 12 yards of crushed limestone and then, finally, toting the brick pavers that had been freshly cut by Eads over to the mason to lay.
There was something that sounded a lot like relish — and beyond his years — in 13-year-old Luka Jurkovic’s voice when he proudly explained that, though “the second day was the hardest because it was the longest, this is something you don’t get to do everyday.”
Aaron Stalnaker, 12, the newest cadet of the five (you have to be at least 12 to join the CAP), echoed his friend’s sentiment: “Working on the Fire Hub was hard, but it was a great project and I hope we can do something like that again.”
Gibson Eads, 16, saw the importance of the project immediately and is now a RAF advocate. “It sounded like a fun project and in the end I was proud of what we had done — it looked really good. Plus, I really like what the RAF does because I’m learning to fly out of a grass strip.”
Gibson’s 12-year-old brother Nolan, who joined the CAP just last year and who has some glider time out of the same grass strip, feels the same way: “It just seemed like a great thing to work on and to get out there to SUN ’n FUN.”
MORE TO THE STORY
With AOPA signed on as the main sponsor for the Fire Hubs, a lot had to happen before the first hub’s construction — and fast. First was picking the location. SUN ’n FUN donated the campsite area at the top of Poberezny Road, appropriately located near the campground entrance, providing easy access. The site just so happened to be the favorite camping spot for long-time SUN ’n FUN participant and Cedar Knoll Flying Ranch owner Bill Lowery, so the next step was breaking the news to him that the campsite had been “appropriated.”
When RAF Director and Florida Liaison Tim Clifford made the phone call to break the news to his fellow aviator and friend, it turned out there was nothing to “break.” Lowery, who happens to be a general contractor, wanted in: “If you’re going take my campsite, I’m going to build it right.” He immediately had the plans reviewed by a local architect and suggested modifications so the design could withstand not only time but also be easily manufactured “out of the box” for the next 49 hubs.
The rest is history. Lowery spread the news to Eads, who knew exactly who to recruit for the task.
In the end, the project took only nine days, from Clifford’s first phone call to Lowery to the laying of the last brick. The RAF Fire Hub was officially set to flame Tuesday evening by AOPA President Craig Fuller and SUN ’n FUN President John “Lites” Leenhouts, and is now open to the public for story telling.
You can be sure these five cdets and budding pilots will soon tell their Spring Break for Pilots’ story around the SUN ’n FUN Fire Hub when they return Thursday to begin performing their official CAP duties at the fly-in.
Find out more about the RAF Fire Hub project and how you can donate a brick at TheRAF.org.