By TED LUEBBERS
On Friday, Oct. 28, 2016, the Leesburg High School Spark Club visited the Leesburg International Airport in Florida to learn about the opportunities for future employment and economic development at the airport.
The Spark Club was started three years ago by the Leesburg Chamber of Commerce as a leadership program for senior students who had good academic grades and demonstrated leadership skills. Many of these students were recommended for the Spark Club by their teachers.
The airport visit was a joint venture between the Leesburg Chamber of Commerce, the Experimental Aircraft Association Chapter 534, and the Leesburg Airport manager.
The day began at the airport administration building where the students were given a run down about what they were going to see, and were given a presentation by Robert Chandler, Director of the Economic Growth Department for Lake County who talked to the senior students about employment opportunities in Lake county and specifically at the Leesburg airport. He stressed the fact that this airport was a “big economic engine for this area with many aviation jobs available now and in the future.”
The next presentations were by two career EAA Chapter 534 pilots. Jack Hallet, a World War II U.S. Air Force pilot, told the students about some of his experiences during the war. Steve Barber a United States Air Force Academy graduate, US Air Force pilot and retired American Airlines captain, spoke about the opportunities in aviation and the need to set personal goals. He also talked about the need for professional pilots now and in the future.
After the formal presentations, the students were given tours of some of the aviation businesses at the airport.
The first stop was at the EAA Chapter 534 hangar where they were shown some of the chapter aircraft building projects.
From the EAA hangar they moved to the Sun Air Aviation Flight Base Operations, the general aviation terminal for the airport.
The next stop was Central Florida Avionics & Instruments, where they were introduced to Jesus Gonzalez, avionics technician, who explained what all the instruments on the airplane panel do and how they do it. He was able to put across a highly technical subject to a level these smart high school students could understand.
From the avionics shop they were guided to the Flying Colors Paint Shop. This shop specializes in painting all types and sizes of aircraft. On this day they were finishing up the painting of a Vietnam era Huey Helicopter that will become an integral part of a permanent display at the Veterans Memorial in Leesburg. John Francis, the owner of the business, told them about his business and the many skills it requires.
He guided the students to another hangar and business called Flying Colors Air Parts. This is a new aircraft salvage business run by his daughter Alexis Francis. They specialize in aircraft recovery and transport and the buying and selling of salvaged aircraft parts.
The last tour was at Wipaire, which specializes in the building of aircraft floats, airplane modifications, maintenance and aircraft sales.
The visit to KLEE gave these students a pretty good idea of the economic opportunities at this airport and the skills needed for jobs. This was the first time most of them had been exposed to the aviation industry and the possibilities for employment that were available now and in the future.