By Michael W. Michelsen, Jr.
To describe Timothy Carlson’s love for aviation as a passion would be a gross understatement. In fact, nearly everything Carlson, 18, does from the time he gets up in the morning until he goes to bed at night involves aviation in one form or another.
Last June, he graduated from Flabob Airport Preparatory Academy in Riverside, California, then enrolled in the aviation maintenance technology program at nearby San Bernardino Valley College. And if that’s not enough aviation fuel for your blood, Carlson is just a few flights from earning his pilot’s certificate.
It only stands to reason that when it came time for Carlson to begin a community service project for his Eagle Scout award, he would select a project from a list of things that needed doing at March Field Air Museum in Riverside.
Carlson’s project called for him to perform a complete cosmetic restoration of a Folland MK1 Gnat, a British compact swept-wing subsonic fighter aircraft that was used primarily by the Indian Air Force. His restoration began Sept. 24, 2016, and was officially completed on Feb. 25, 2018, after more than 1,300 man hours of work.
“My project took so long because, first of all, it needed a lot of work,” Carlson explained. “But the other reason was because I wanted to meet a high standard with the end result. Without a doubt, this was the most challenging project I have ever undertaken.”
Jeff Houlihan, the museum’s director for Collection, Exhibits and Restoration, wrote a letter to the Boy Scouts’ California Inland Empire Council explaining the complex challenges of restoring the vintage Indian Air Force F-1 Gnat jet fighter.
“During each phase of this complicated restoration process, planning, organization and execution, Tim exhibited a level of competency worthy of the finest museum professional,” wrote Houlihan, who also served as Eagle Project coordinator. “His attention to detail and great respect for the fragility and historical import of the aircraft ensured success.”
Carlson attracted many admirers with the painstaking work he put into the project, sometimes in unexpected places.
One day, as he was at the museum working on the project, one of the volunteers, who was from India, pulled him aside and thanked him for restoring a “piece of her home.” She said that whenever she looked at the Gnat, it took her back to her homeland.
“I think that being a Scout is important, partly because it makes you part of something that is bigger than yourself,” Carlson said. “But when that volunteer told me that, I realized that this project was bigger than just an Eagle Scout project. It made me realize that doing this project was something truly important to a lot of people.”
Carlson turned 18 on May 6, 2018, the day he was awarded the rank of Eagle Scout. The formal Eagle Scout presentation ceremony was held at the museum.
“His Eagle Scout project is the most intense I have witnessed in my scouting career,” said Russell Mills, unit commissioner for California Inland Empire Council BSA for the San Jacinto Valley, who has been involved with scouting the past 50 years.
Carlson has served as a Junior Docent at March Field Air Museum since 2016, guiding visitors and training volunteers.
Now he will be able to show his own work. Today, the restored Gnat sits at the front of the museum in its main hangar.
He said the most important lesson he learned while giving up weekends, holidays, and vacations to complete his Eagle Scout project is how important it is to keep your word.
“If you say you will take on a task, you keep doing it until it’s finished,” he said. “There were times when I went to work on this project alone, not because I necessarily wanted to but because it was my responsibility to make it happen. I gave my word it would be done.”
Now that the project is done, Carlson is concentrating on his flying. He reports he’s close to taking his private pilot checkride in his own aircraft, a 1965 Bellanca 260B.
“Tim uses his passion for flying to guide his enthusiasm for life,” wrote Shawna Lewis, Teaching Vice Principal at Flabob Airport Preparatory Academy, in a recommendation letter.
Carlson said he likes the freedom he feels when he’s at the controls.
“You don’t worry about anything when you are flying — you leave all your problems on the runway,” he said.