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Native American Teen Reaches for the Sky

Tyler Allen
Tyler Allen in the shop where he and other Academy attendees build wooden wing ribs and other aircraft components.

Kjell Boersma and Dan Voshart
Kjell Boersma, left, and Dan Voshart are producing a documentary of Tyler’s quest to become a pilot.

July 1, 2010 — Among the teenagers attending the EAA Air Academy this week is a young man whose growing passion for aviation is being facilitated by several people pulling for him to succeed. Because frankly, without their help and mentorship, the probability of his becoming a pilot would be remote.

Tyler Allen, 15, is from Window Rock, Arizona, the capital of the Navajo Indian Reservation. The Window Rock Airport is the base of operations for the tribe’s flight operations, yet it lacks a flight school – the closest one is 30 miles away in Gallup, New Mexico. Last year Tyler attended a career day and approached Adriel Heisey, director of flight transportation for the Navajo nation, to express his interest in aviation. Ever since that meeting, Heisey and others have stepped forward to help nurture Tyler and his goal to become a pilot.

“The first time I ever flew was on an airline flight, and I loved it from the start, especially the view from above,” Tyler said. “I never knew what it was like to see down from the sky.”

Since the career day, Tyler has flown many times with Heisey in smaller planes, including the tribe’s King Air. “I get to sit in the right seat when they fly tribal officials to places like Phoenix, Albuquerque,” Tyler said.

Heisey has also taken Tyler up in his Flight Design CT light-sport aircraft – letting him man the flight controls when appropriate, which only serves to further stoke his passion for flight.

Heisey, also a renowned aerial photographer whose work has appeared in National Geographic, contacted fellow pilot Greg Brown, a member of EAA Chapter 856 in Flagstaff, Arizona. They discussed what they could do to help mentor the young would-be pilot, as cultural and financial barriers would most certainly prevent him from advancing to flight training strictly on his own.

Each year the chapter sends several kids to the EAA Air Academy by holding an essay contest, so Brown suggested Tyler enter and write about why he’d like to attend. His was one of the five essays selected this year and he’s in Oshkosh this week learning about the various aspects of flight, building components like wing ribs, putting model gliders together, and interacting with other kids against the aviation backdrop.

“The EAA chapter gave me a scholarship for my essay on why I wanted to come here,” Tyler said. “They said they liked my essay a lot.”
Brown has obtained pilot training course materials for Tyler from a friend at Aviation Supplies and Academics (ASA) and has also taken Tyler up several times in his Cessna 182. He related a story about Tyler’s keen situational and location awareness that became apparent during one of the flights.

“We were flying and he was able to take us 15 miles north to fly over his grandmother’s house, and never looked at a map,” Brown explained. “He knows instinctively where to go, which I find extraordinary.”

The biggest barrier to Tyler’s advancement into flight training is financial; his family could never afford it. But the chapter and others are exploring ways to help. For example, Heisey’s nephew, Kjell Boersma of Toronto, Canada, is an independent filmmaker who is producing a documentary on Tyler’s unlikely journey into aviation. Boersma is pursuing grant funds that would incorporate money for Tyler’s flight training.

Tyler wants to go to college and study medicine, but he would love to begin flight training as soon as he can.

“We’re pretty confident in being able to get Tyler through to his private pilot license,” Brown said. “Considering his background and his limited past access to aviation, there’s no question the odds are against him.

“But I really think we’ll find a way."

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