December 12, 2013 - EAA's Young Eagles Chairman Sean D. Tucker is very excited about a new program he's getting off the ground in his hometown of Salinas, California, whose purpose is to change lives of at-risk youth through aviation. Although not an EAA program, Tucker says it wouldn't have ever happened without EAA.
It's called Every Kid Can Fly, and the goal is to help disadvantaged young people change their lives and break the cycle of gangs, drugs, violence, and incarceration. Tucker, EAA Lifetime 259123, leads the program, and counts on his son Eric, EAA 608992, along with fellow aviator and aviation business owner Erick Teeters, EAA 636280, to do the "heavy lifting."
As Tucker explained, the program is in partnership with Rancho Cielo, a youth facility in Monterey County created to help the area with significant crime problems related to gang activity. Many youths who get into trouble are referred there by the court system. Rancho Cielo selected the first seven youths for the program.
"Our kids have showed a certain level of success thanks to the Rancho Cielo programs so they were given the opportunity to get involved with Every Kid Can Fly," Teeters said. "Rancho Cielo desires to help them stand up and succeed where literally everything else in their history has failed them. Most don't have the family and support experience. So they don't understand the opportunities that are out there and how to access them." Including the possibility they could become pilots.
The seeds for that possibility are sown right away beginning with a Young Eagles flight. That also allows the youths to take advantage of the EAA Flight Plan, including Sporty's online Learn to Fly course, reimbursement of the cost of their FAA written exam, free first flight lesson, EAA scholarships eligibility, and so much more.
Tucker pledged that the program would see these young people through to their first solo, provided they steer clear of gangs and drugs, and stay in school.
"When a person solos, it's life changing. Solo is when a person is a pilot forever; it redefines you," Tucker said. The goal, he said, is to transform their lives to one of boundless opportunity fueled by hope and passion, resulting in a joyful life.
Eric Tucker added, "For most of these kids it's the first time they're doing the right thing for their own sake. We're giving them a reason to stay on the right track." Tucker is a corporate pilot flying Citation 10 and King Air 350 with Solairus Aviation in Oakland.
Erick Teeter is also a professional pilot and owns Erick Enterprises, a Part 91 operator offering commercial pilot services and aircraft management. "Sean had the vision, and it was something I had wanted to do at some point, that is give back and help change lives."
Teeters is a fourth generation pilot whose great grandfather was a Kansas barnstormer. His grandfather is Art Teeters, founder of Cal-Pacific Airmotive, a shop in Salinas that specializes in P-51 repair and restorations and holds limited type certificate LTC-11 for the P-51C, D, and K models.
EAA at the core
Sean wanted to give back to the Salinas community he said gave so much to him. He got his start in professional flying as a crop duster in the area and has since become a legendary aviation icon as an air show performer and is one of aviation's most successful ambassadors.
He and his son met with Foster (EAA Lifetime 754131) and Lauren (EAA 1055021) Bachschmidt to brainstorm ideas. They arrived at the Every Kid Can Fly program, with the Bachschmidts also helping form the nonprofit organization.
About a month before EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2013, Tucker said he met with James Slattery, EAA Lifetime 1021734, and as they were discussing the new idea, Slattery provided a $50,000 donation and said to go get the best Cessna 152 out there for flight training. That plane is being refurbished to better-than-new condition by Matt Goulian and Executive Flyers Aviation.
John Brown, EAA Lifetime 390248, also donated a T-6 Texan to the organization for producing income for the program through paid warbird flights.
"My success is based on EAA," Sean said, adding, "You can't reach your full potential without helping someone reach theirs."
Every Kid Can Fly has also forged a relationship with NASA's Science, Engineering, Mathematics and Aerospace (SEMA) Academy at Salinas' Hartnell Community College, providing program students access to its aeronautics workstations, a wind tunnel, a microgravity tower, wind tunnel, and flight simulators. NASA has 16 SEMA facilities nationwide, and Salinas has the only one in California.
SEMA's proximity to the airport will allow them to walk over to the aircraft for a flight lesson immediately after working in the lab.
Learning how to think critically
These charter program participants will serve as the examples for others. Teeters has taken to calling them the Mercury Seven astronauts, while Sean calls them the Magnificent Seven. It's a process. The kids are excited to be the first ones.
Although just getting started, the kids seem to be responding, Teeters said. "They're learning a whole new physics of flight, tackling unfamiliar subjects, and how to think critically. They have tremendous character and outstanding capacity to learn. They are the pioneers, the first - they're getting to see what kind of people pilots are, and they want to get there."
If the program proves to be successful, the template could be used in other locations, Eric Tucker said.
"We will do what we can to have the kids succeed, to lead them on their educational journey," he said. "We're essentially teaching them how to teach themselves and we're making baby steps right now. After only three ground lessons you can see their outlook - ambition and character changes. But they'll need to engage, truly earn their way." Learn more at the Every Kid Can Fly website and Facebook page.