By TED LUEBBERS
A group of 15 Leesburg High School students who are members of the school’s Spark Club recently got a tour of Leesburg International Airport (KLEE) in Florida. The tour’s mission was to show the students that there are good paying jobs in their hometown and many of those jobs center around aviation.
The tour was organized by Sandi Moore, executive director of the Leesburg Area Chamber of Commerce, and Tracy Dean, Leesburg International Airport Manager. Airport tenants making presentations to the students were Experimental Aircraft Association Chapter 534, Brainard Helicopters, Skybolt Aerospace Fasteners, and Wipaire.
Students are recommended for the Spark Club by their teachers based on leadership attributes they have already shown, as well as current grades. The program was started about four years ago by the Leesburg Chamber of Commerce to recognize and encourage student leaders.
The students met initially at the airport administration building for a briefing of the morning events and a presentation by Robert Chandler, Director of the Economic Growth Department for Lake County. Chandler’s theme was that Lake County has many good job opportunities now and even more in the future as more people move to this area.
Young people who have already shown leadership skills and have good educations can be assured of a bright employment future in Lake County, he told the students.
The next stop on the tour was at the Experimental Aircraft Association Chapter 534 hangar. After a spectacular entrance made by EAA Program Chairman Paul Adrien by pulling up in his homebuilt aircraft in front of the hangar, everyone was treated to a talk about the many opportunities that aviation offers.
Paul mentioned the great need for pilots, as well as aviation mechanics. He explained that the EAA chapter programs include aircraft building, Young Eagles flights, and the EAA Chapter 534 Youth program.
The next stop was at Brainard Helicopters, the home of the famous firefighting Firehawk helicopter. Brainard employees Jason Warner and Allan Reisman showed the students the various helicopters they were working on, explained their aerodynamics, and answered questions.
Inside the hangar they were shown the transmission that is used in a Blackhawk helicopter and how engine power was delivered to the rotor blades.
Outside on the ramp all the kids were given the opportunity to get into the cockpit of a Firehawk helicopter and get the feel of what it might be like to fly one.
A bit further along the tarmack the students were hosted by Ned Bowers, president of Skybolt Aerospace Fasteners, his wife and V.P. Debra Bowers, and employee Eric Skipper. This company manufactures many types of fasteners for aircraft, spacecraft and even NASCAR racers. Here the students saw the actual manufacturing process for some of these fasteners.
The last stop was at the Wipaire hangar, where they were hosted by Wipaire’s General Manager Bill Pike. This company specializes in aircraft floats for seaplanes. It also focuses on aircraft sales, maintenance, and modifications. Here they saw planes being worked on and painted. Bill took time to answer all the questions the kids had.
This was a unique experience for these young people who probably had no idea how vast the aviation field is and how many support people are necessary to keep planes flying.
Yes, the world is going to need a lot of new pilots in the near future, but even more mechanics and ancillary aviation people to keep this industry flying. It was clear that the aviation industry is going to be able to provide good jobs for a long time to come.