It was cold, at least by the standards of this Florida boy. The thermometer was well down into the 40s as I rolled up to the big hangar on the east side of St. Simons Island Airport in Georgia.
It was a bit windy, too. Gusts on Friday had been up into the mid 20s, well above the comfort level I’ve come to seek in my little C-152. Those winds were dying off by Saturday morning, however. Conditions were improving rapidly.
There wasn’t a cloud in the sky as I sauntered into the hangar, found my assigned space, and prepared for the onslaught that was to come. This was the scene at Aviation Career Day in this gorgeous seaside community. The fourth installment of an idea, that grew to an event, that has become a truly successful enterprise.
The numbers speak for themselves. With 487 registered students and 235 Young Eagles flights conducted in a single day, there is no doubt the crew of volunteers and airport staff are making a difference. Seriously.
How many opportunities are there for kids to walk into a room with myriad aeronautical career options on display? How often do parents get to ask professionals any question they want about how their sons and daughters might find success in aviation as a hobby or a career?
This is big stuff. They do it in St. Simons Island, Georgia, every year. Maybe it wouldn’t hurt to do it in your town, too.
There is a high degree of sizzle to the program these folks put on. In addition to display tables set up throughout a large, absolutely spotless corporate hangar facility, the ramp outside is packed with aircraft.
Homebuilts stand ready beside water bombers, which are just down the ramp from a selection of helicopters, which are flanked by corporate jets. As a teenager steps onto the ramp, he or she is greeted with a wide variety of machinery, all available to them if they wish to pursue the opportunity.
Have you ever talked to a teenager who has just gotten back on the ground after experiencing their first flight? It’s an amazing thing to experience.
“It wasn’t like I thought it would be at all,” is probably the comment I hear most often. “It was way better!”
To see parents beaming as their kids discover something they really want to pursue — that’s something special.
Checking into Aviation Career Day is accomplished via a process any voter is familiar with. Volunteers staff a registration table where names of attendees are recorded.
Hot dogs are cooking out on the ramp. They’re free to attendees. Flight simulators are tucked into the corner of the hangar, with a line of teenagers waiting not quite patiently to give them a try. More than a few parents look ready to give it a whirl, too.
Everywhere you turn, there is something to do, someone to engage in conversation, an opportunity you’ve never had before.
Flight schools were well represented, because let’s face it, high-quality, well-run, flight schools are an important part of the aeronautical spectrum of businesses.
Sam flew up to St. Simons Island from Savannah in a C-172 with G1000s in the panel. He’s a CFI for L3 Airline Academy, a flight school with a connection to Delta Airlines and a long history of moving non-pilots into the left seat, then into the right to serve as CFIs, then on to the airlines.
How long a history? The predecessor to L3 was AeroSim Flight Academy, which was previously known as Comair Aviation Academy — coincidentally, the school where I got my tickets all those years ago. And yes, some of my former classmates do indeed fly in the left seat of the affiliated airline.
The process works. Sam is part of the Propel program at L3. Soon he’ll be leaving the C-172s and Seminoles behind to fly regional jets for Republic Airlines. For a teenager with big dreams, Sam and his peers are a great example of what you can be, and where you can go, if you try.
The name and the ownership have changed, but the mission remains the same. Sam speaks of his journey with the same excitement and satisfaction my classmates and I did 30 years ago.
Of course, not everyone who wants to work in aviation wants to fly professionally. Some don’t want to fly at all. Thank goodness. Because there are plenty of careers available that don’t involve leaving the ground.
NOAA is famous as the home of the Hurricane Hunters. With good reason. Flying into the heart of a hurricane is exciting stuff. Beyond that thrill ride, however, there is a real need for professionals who can keep those aircraft flying and ready their crews to be successful in their missions. Aviation Career Day gave kids and parents the opportunity to find out more about that specific career path from a NOAA pilot. That’s not an opportunity most of us get very often.
The FAA, the National Guard, drone operators responsible for supporting Geographic Information Systems (GIS), the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA), and Transportation Security Agency (TSA) were all in attendance. As was the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), of course.
Multiple educational institutions were represented as well, including Embry Riddle Worldwide, which you may be surprised to learn operates out of more than 120 sites around the world, as well as through online courses.
Students and parents alike found out first-hand that aviation is open to anyone at any age, and that educational opportunities to prepare for the career of your dreams is out there — closer than you might think.
Your community could do worse than to emulate St. Simons Island’s success by developing your own aviation career fair at your local airport. It requires a lot of work, a lot of volunteers, and some considerable planning.
The way to become successful at it is simple, but not easy. Just like the advice I’d give to any of the students I spent time with over the weekend is this: Just start.
You’ll be amazed where the journey might take you.