Students take to the skies to thank their benefactor

Thursday at the Sun ’n Fun fly-in in Lakeland, Florida, two 17-year-old students will perform a special fly-by honoring James Ray, the man who donated the money to build the Central Florida Aerospace Academy on the Sun ’n Fun campus.

The students, Phillip “Maverick” Herrington and Angel “Talisman” Castellanos, wanted to perform the fly-by to thank the man who made their wildest dreams come to life.

“James C. Ray’s philanthropy is predominantly dedicated to aviation-oriented youth education programs,” Herrington noted. “He made a significant contribution for the building of the Central Florida Aerospace Academy on the grounds of Sun ’n Fun and the James C. Ray Scholarship Fund was established to offer financial support for Polk County High School merit students.”

Phillip Herrington and Angel Castellanos after one of their practices for Thursday's fly-by tribute to James Ray.

Ray also provides financial support to the Experimental Aircraft Association and its Young Eagles program; the University of North Dakota Aerospace programs; the Museum of Flight in Seattle; and the Future of Flight Aviation Center and Boeing Tour in Everett, Washington.

President of the Aerospace Capital Group and the Ray Foundation of Naples, Florida, he also has invested in more than 300 high tech aerospace and computer ventures, including Compaq Computer and Cirrus Design.

“We want to say thank you by demonstrating what can happen when somebody believes in your passion and is financially able to support you,” Herrington said.

The young pilots, who hold Sport Pilot certificates, will perform their multiple precision formation fly-bys in Breezer Light-Sport Aircraft.

Flying the Breezer is an important part of today’s events. That’s because the boys, especially Herrington, consider Mike Zidzinius, know to most as Mike Z as the owner of Breezer Aircraft USA, as a mentor — and more.

“Mike is like a second father to me,” Herrington said. “Mike and the flight school have supported me financially and mentally since I started flying. The scholarship covered me through solo, Mike did the rest! Breezer Aircraft fully supports the dreams of us young people. Flight training with Mike Z and the instructors of Breezer Aircraft USA is phenomenal!”

Breezer Aircraft, which has a training fleet of three LSAs, is also a dealership for the Breezer, which is made in Germany. They are sold as quick build kits, with flight training built into the purchase price.

Once their tickets were in hand, preparing for the fly-by started months ago for the boys. While handling their regular high school work, the two also spent a lot of time in the school’s Flight Simulator Lab. All students spend time in the lab, receiving a grade on how well they perform in certain scenarios set up in the simulator by the aerospace instructor. For the past few months, however, Herrington and Castellanos had a different task before them when they entered the sim lab: They were practicing precision formation flying in hopes that Air Boss Wayne Boggs and the new president of Sun ’n Fun, John “Lites” Leenhouts, would approve their dream to fly at the airshow.

It’s a dream that’s been in the works since the boys were 5 years old.

Lead pilot Castellanos, a member of the of the Air Force JROTC, developed a desire to fly after attending his first Sun ’n Fun 12 years ago. During a field trip to the Florida Air Museum when he was in 8th grade, he discovered the Central Florida Aerospace Academy and applied.

Last summer, the first James C. Ray scholarship was given to a group of Future Eagle students, which allowed them to complete ground school and solo. Castellanos was the first to solo out of the other students, and received a second scholarship to train for a Sport Pilot license. On Dec. 30, he received his Sport Pilots License, becoming the first student at the Central Florida Aerospace Academy to attain his license.

He notes that the wings displayed on his flight suit “serve as a daily reminder to those around me of the goals I have set forth for a long and adventurous future in military aviation.” He aspires to be accepted to the Air Force Academy and fly as a fighter pilot in the Air Force.

Wingman Herrington, also a member of the Air Force JROTC, developed a desire to fly at the age of 5, after watching the 1980 film “Top Gun.” When he was in 7th grade, he told his father he wouldn’t get his driver’s license until he had his pilot’s license.

When he was in 8th grade, he discovered the Central Florida Aerospace Academy and immediately dubbed it the first step in a long-term goal.

On April 4, 2011, he took his first airplane ride with Greg Poe, an airshow pilot who had performed at Sun ’n Fun the day before. “My very first flight consisted of loops, barrel rolls, and some inverted flight,” he recalled. A week later he received a ride in a 182.

He immediately applied for a scholarship with the James C. Ray Foundation, and on May 12, received the scholarship. On May 15, he took his first flight lesson, soloing on Oct. 15. He was scheduled to do his check ride Dec. 17, but that was put on hold when he was the passenger in an Ercoupe crash on takeoff on Nov. 19.

On Dec. 24, he climbed back into the airplane for the first time since the accident. He “re-soloed” a week later and on Jan. 28, received his Sport Pilot license.

He says the wings displayed on his flight suit are a daily reminder of the goals he has to become a Naval Aviator. He plans to attend Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. He desires to join NROTC and later join the Navy. By the way — he still doesn’t have his driver’s license!



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