With a plate full of pancakes, scrambled eggs, sausage, and hash browns, I’m a happy boy. A Styrofoam cup of coffee completes my All American Breakfast. The space around me buzzes with activity. Every seat is filled, every table occupied. The low clamor made by dozens of conversations going on simultaneously takes nothing away from my enjoyment of casual chatter with my tablemates.
There is nothing subtle or retiring about the monthly pancake breakfast at EAA Chapter 1240, in Sebring, Florida. A dedicated team of volunteers have food and beverages ready to go by 8 a.m. The hangar fills quickly, tables turn over at an impressive rate and, as if by magic, the hangar is nearly empty again by 11 a.m.
Regardless of the weather or the time of year, each gathering is a winner, by design.
Held in the chapter’s 60’ x 70’ hangar on the southern end of the airport’s expansive ramp area, space is not a problem. Or at least it wasn’t.
Now plans are afoot to expand and the need for a larger hangar isn’t because the pancakes are so big or the kitchen staff requires more elbow room. The chapter’s needs are spreading out because kids are taking over the place.
This is the home of what so many of us dream. And they’re prepping to ramp things up.
On the morning I was there a handful of kids climbed into a C-172 with an experienced pilot for a quick trip around the green, agricultural landscape. Another small cluster gathered in the classroom that shares a wall with the back of the hangar.
Still more were in the kitchen area helping out, and I personally witnessed a couple dawdling over breakfast while their attention was captured by books. Yes, real books. With covers and pages and truly useful information inside.
While this may be an oddity in many parts of the country, it’s a regular occurrence here. It didn’t happen by accident, either.
Like so many small chapters in rural communities, EAA 1240 began as a small group of adult homebuilders working in a T-hangar. Then lightning struck — and the lightning in this case goes by the name “ambition.”
Community support has been critical, of course. And it doesn’t hurt to have solid airport management on the field, populated by resourceful individuals who see the potential that comes from working with opportunities as they come along, rather than fighting to oppose them.
Students from three area high schools routinely populate this hangar, where they are guided by adult mentors who invest in the next generation in a meaningful, productive way. Kids build, they fly the simulator, they participate in ground school lessons, and they fly. The chapter also offers college scholarships that make the students’ involvement even more attractive.
This non-descript hangar at KSEF is an excellent example of what could be — perhaps even what should be — happening in towns all across this nation. And it can. It ain’t rocket science, after all.
Then again, sometimes it is.
At one end of the hangar, sheets of aluminum coated in green primer await builders to arrive and continue the process of shaping them into an airworthy aircraft. When finished, this will be an AirCam, the experimental, twin-engine, taildragging fun machine so many pilots lust after. Perhaps the ultimate low and slow flier, the project’s participants have the great advantage of being located directly next door to Lockwood Aircraft, the manufacturer of the kit.
Phil Lockwood is an active member of EAA 1240. He’s also the big dog who has nurtured the AirCam from a concept to a truly experimental series of flights for National Geographic, and ultimately to become perhaps the most sought after light twin ever to roll out of any factory door. He’s also an unapologetic cheer-leader for the programming the chapter is engaged in, including the AirCam build.
John Rousch is an affable, sharp, experienced pilot and builder who just happens to work with the Highlands County School District. He’s also a driving force behind many of the activities happening at the chapter.
As this new school year ramps up, John will be making use of AOPA’s aerospace STEM curriculum at Lake Placid High School, where students will be exposed to science, technology, engineering, and math with a recognizable purpose.
In addition to his educational duties during the school day, John uses his piloting and mentoring skills to work with kids at the hangar with the ease of a man who has honed his skills for interacting with teens in a way that eludes most of us. He’s good at it. Really good. As are so many of the volunteers found in this central Florida hangar.
The volunteers may be the key. Or maybe it’s the leadership. Then again, it could be the airport management that makes the difference. Whatever it is, there is something going on at the airport in Sebring, Florida, that is head and shoulders above the norm, absolutely enviable, and undeniably reproduceable at your airport, in your schools, in your town.
If you want to know how, go ahead and contact EAA Chapter 1240 via its website and ask for pointers. They’ve got a wealth of information on that site, including photos of the kids working on the AirCam project.
There are at least a couple shots of the kids working with the owner of the kit right beside them. His name is Story Musgrave. He’s a physician, a writer, a business owner, a consultant, and a former astronaut. Maybe you’ve heard of him.
Surprise! Even out in the rural reaches of America, at a general aviation airport surrounded by farms and fields, there really is some rocket science going on. And kids are a big part of it.