He’s flown 1,025 kids. She’s kept youth scholarships funded and created a private pilot grant program for budding aviators. Together, they’ve run Young Eagles chapters in two states, coordinated hundreds of events, endured countless forms and paperwork, and relentlessly recruited ground volunteers, pilots and donors. Yet, Ginny and Richard Largent are far from finished in their quest to share their excitement for flight.
That extraordinary determination to cultivate a future for general aviation has earned the Largents the 2011 Phillips 66 Aviation Leadership Award, bestowed upon Ginny and Richard during the annual Young Eagles banquet Wednesday at AirVenture.
Young Eagles Chairmen Chesley Sullenberger and Jeff Skiles were on hand during the Largent’s award presentation, joined by Andy Veins, president global marketing, ConocoPhillips, and Bryan Faria, manager general aviation, Phillips 66 Aviation.
To say this Virginia couple is dedicated to getting America’s youth interested in aviation is an understatement, Phillips 66 Aviation officials say.
“Ginny and Richard Largent embody and put into action everything that Young Eagles stands for,” says Rosemary Leone, director, programs, general aviation for ConocoPhillips.
Richard flew his 1,025th Young Eagle this summer in his Cessna 172. Four times in the past six years the Virginia Department of Aviation has recognized Richard as one of the state’s top aviators for his Young Eagle flights.
On the ground, Ginny is the backbone of Young Eagle events for EAA Chapter 186 in Northern Virginia, organizing and managing events at not one, but multiple airports, including Winchester (OKC), Front Royal (FRR), Frederick (FDR) and Manassas (HEF).
She runs big annual rallies like the Berlin Airlift and her D.A.R.E. initiative with the Frederick County police and schools. She recruits ground and pilot volunteers, ensures flight safety procedures are followed, and supports airport open houses, chapter fly-ins, and visits by home-school classes, Boy Scouts and innumerable other groups.
The Largent’s one-two punch is persistent. They’re even loaning their Cessna to an aspiring, young pilot – gratis.
Working with an enthusiastic youth from a financially strapped family, the Largents found a way to make his flight training nearly free. With their Cessna, a flight instructor friend they recruited, and donations of ground school kits, books and headsets, a promising aviator is well on his way to earning a pilot’s certificate. In return, the young man washes planes and supports the chapter’s events.
“We have to be concerned about general aviation and keeping it going,” says Ginny. “Kids have so many other opportunities that they don’t think about it as much anymore. Aviation is a very important part of our economy.
“The idea is to give them a flight, not just to inspire them to become a pilot, but to seek some type of job in aviation,” Ginny explains. “We think that’s important to show your children as many options as you can for their careers. Young Eagles is a big part of that.”
Ginny established the financial architecture of EAA Chapter 186’s scholarship youth fund, featuring a perpetual growth strategy. The Largents work their community to fund scholarships that send Young Eagles to the EAA Air Academy in Oshkosh. And the couple travels to AirVenture every year to support national Young Eagle activities.
If that wasn’t enough, the Largents have resurrected a dormant EAA chapter on the North Carolina coast, EAA Chapter 939.
You shake your head and wonder what keeps this couple going. Richard has a simple answer. “Smiles,” he says.
“Most of these kids have never been in plane — their parents likely haven’t been either — and you watch these smiles come alive and say ‘here’s a kid who would never have gotten to go flying without the Young Eagles,’” explains Richard. “And maybe they’ll want to become a pilot.”
Their almost evangelical mission to win fans for general aviation began in 1996 when Richard joined EAA Chapter 186. He took over chapter operations in 2000. Ginny began finding volunteers and looking for children who wanted to fly.
“There’s never enough attention paid to the folks who do the ground work,” Richard says. “None of these events would occur if not for people like Ginny. They’re the ones who find the people, then do all the paperwork. Us pilots get the bulk of the credit, but all we’re doing is doing what we love to do.”
What sets the Largent’s work apart from many EAA chapters is their push to fly Young Eagles throughout the year, not just at rallies.
“What we’ve noticed is that a lot of individual pilots are not flying Young Eagles on their own, and that’s not how program started,” says Richard. “So what we’ve tried to do is get information about the program to the pilots at the airports, get two or three pilots together and fly some kids. The nice part is you get more one-on-one time. You can talk more about the aircraft and get the parents involved.
“We love the rallies, but we like that one-on-one with Young Eagles and the parents,” adds Richard, who takes his Cessna airborne with Young Eagles some 25 times a year.
The Largents use the Phillips 66 Aviation Young Eagles Rebate to offset fuel costs of their youth flights. The Phillips 66 Young Eagles Rebate has been used to take some 370,000 youths flying.
“We make it a point that when we see a Phillips 66 person walking around, we go up and thank them,” he says.
Now, some 1,000 kids later, Richard still recalls his first Young Eagle flight 15 years ago, one that seems to encapsulate why the Largents do all that volunteer work.
“I had a young man get into the plane who was about 12 and he was obnoxious, rude to his mom, and demanded to sit up front,” recalls Richard. “The kid was grabbing all the buttons and knobs and stuff, and I thought ‘I didn’t sign on to be a babysitter.’ This kid says ‘I have a flight simulator, I know all about this, this is nothing.’ And then we took off.”
That’s when it happened.
“I gave him the controls and he became transformed, transfixed, sitting quietly,” says Richard, “and when we landed he roared up to his mom to tell her he flew the plane. His mom gives me a look that says, ‘That’s not my child.’
“Then the boy turns to me and says, ‘Mister, this has been the best day of my life,’” Richard says. “Here was a kid who was transformed within the space of 15 minutes. That’s why we continue to do this. Perhaps that child went home and said ‘Maybe I can do this.’”
For more information about the Phillips 66 Aviation Young Eagles Rebate: Phillips66Aviation.com