By Ted Luebbers
A group of 15 Leesburg High School students who are members of the school’s Spark club got a tour of the Leesburg International Airport at Leesburg, Florida on Friday November 17, 2017 to learn something about the economic opportunities this airport offers Lake county.
A secondary purpose was to show the students that Lake County has good paying jobs right here and many of those jobs center around aviation at this airport.
This tour was a joint venture organized by Sandi Moore, Executive Director of the Leesburg Area Chamber of Commerce, and Tracy Dean, Leesburg International Airport Manager. Airport tenants also taking part by making presentations to the students were the Experimental Aircraft Association Chapter 534, Brainard Helicopter, Skybolt Aerospace Fasteners, and Wipaire,Inc.
Spark Club students are recommended by their high school teachers based on leadership attributes they have already shown in school activities as well as current academic grades. This program was started about four years ago by the Leesburg Chamber of Commerce to recognize and encourage student leaders.
The students met initially at the airport administration building for a briefing of the morning events and a presentation by Robert Chandler, Director of the Economic Growth Department for Lake County. Chandler’s theme was that Lake County has many good job opportunities now and even more in the future as more people move to this area. Young people who have already shown leadership skills and have good educations can be assured of a bright employment future in Lake County.
The next stop on the airport tour was at the Experimental Aircraft Association Chapter 534 hangar. After a spectacular entrance was made by EAA Program Chairman Paul Adrien by pulling up in his home built aircraft in front of the hangar everyone was treated to a talk about the many opportunities that aviation offers.
Paul mentioned the great need for pilots of all types, airline, commercial as well as aviation mechanics. Also, there is the opportunity to become a private pilot. He explained that the EAA chapter programs include aircraft building, Young Eagles Flights, and the EAA Chapter 534 Youth program. The Young Eagles allows, at no charge, the opportunity for Kids 8 to 17 to take a flight in a single engine general aviation aircraft. Nationally EAA has been offering this program for 25 years and has flown over two million kids. The objective is to interest young people in aviation at an early age so that one day they might gravitate towards an aviation career.
The next stop was at Brainard Helicopter, the home of the famous firefighting, Firehawk Helicopter. Brainard employees Jason Warner and Allan Reisman showed the Spark students the various helicopters they were working on , explained their aerodynamics and answered question. Inside the hangar they were shown the transmission that is used in a Blackhawk helicopter and how engine power was delivered to the rotor blades.
Outside on the ramp all the kids were given the opportunity to get into the cockpit of a Firehawk helicopter and get the feel of what it might be like to fly one.
A bit further along the tarmack the students were hosted by Ned Bowers President of Skybolt Aerospace Fasteners, his wife and V.P. Debra Bowers, and an employee Eric Skipper. This company manufactures many types of fasteners for aircraft, space craft and even NASCAR racers. Here the students saw the actual manufacturing process for some of these fasteners.
The Last stop was at the Wipaire hangar where they were hosted by Wipaire’s General Manager, Bill Pike. This company specializes in aircraft floats for seaplanes. They do other things to, such as aircraft sales, maintenance, and modifications. Here they saw planes being worked on and painted. Bill took time to answer questions the kids had.
This was a unique experience for these young people who probably had no idea how vast the aviation field is and how many support people are necessary to keep planes flying. Yes, the world is going to need a lot of new pilots in the near future but even more mechanics and ancillary aviation people to keep this industry flying. It was clear that the aviation industry right here in Lake County is going to be able to provide good jobs for a long time to come.
If you would like to find out more about some the folks the Spark Students visited on this day you can go to the following web sites.