By Megan S. Willman
Laura Benson Jones is committed to raising kids to a higher level, and she takes that goal literally. Dismayed by the rising number of young people impacted by drug and alcohol use in our society, Laura decided to do what she could to help youth in our community make positive life choices.
A professional pilot and flight instructor, Laura hopes that in sharing her love of aviation she can not only develop young pilots but can also pass along skills that will help teenagers make decisions that keep them safe and healthy. “I believe we all have to do what we can to end this epidemic of opiate use. We can use what we know best. For me, the tool is an airplane,” Laura says.
In October 2015, Laura presented the idea of a kid’s flight club to pilots John Casper, Jeff Daus, and other members of the Vintage Warbirds at Bowman Field in Louisville. Using an airplane as its model, Laura explains the “3 Wheels” of her philosophy for the club:
- Leadership: “We work to raise up the next generation by teaching a good work ethic and establishing a strong, built-in moral compass.”
- Integrate STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) into the real world: “When flying, a pilot must make split-second decisions and know that the math behind those decisions is sound.”
- Drug abatement: “Pilots train so that their reflex reaction is the one for which they have trained. I compare this to the moment when a teenager will be faced with trying drugs or alcohol. They need to prepare in advance for the decision they will make.”
|(L) Laura Benson Jones with Jeff Daus, Sara Ensor (standing) and Iman Ghali. Photos by Trina Whalin|
“Flight Club 502” began with eight girls, and today its membership includes 60 students aged 12 to 20. Laura and the other adults are mentors, but the kids run all aspects of the club, including instruction and club finances. “We have life-long members of the aviation profession who are dedicated to the goal of lifting boys and girls up,” Laura says. “We emphasize peer-to-peer instruction and leadership, helping individuals find their personal power within the group.”
|“Flight Club 502” teaches kids about the value of personal responsibility while engaging in a fun
activity that will enhance their creativity.
Two teens who have found a home in aviation are Flight Club president Iman Ghali (a senior at Sacred Heart Academy) and vice-president Sara Ensor (a junior at Kentucky Country Day School). Laura, Iman, and Sara highlighted the ways in which the tenets of Flight Club 502 have helped empower young people in our community.
- Students becoming teachers. After Laura taught Sara and Iman “ground school” (instruction in all aspects of flying without taking to the air), the girls became instructors for all subsequent students.
- Paying their own way. Flying is an expensive hobby, and the group did not want to exclude anyone based on economic status. “We aren’t interested in who their parents are,” Laura says. “The kids work to raise money for all they do. They wash planes, teach class, work at camp. We want them to engage in social entrepreneurship to help pay for their lessons.”
- Sparking creativity. Flight Club 502 offers after-school classes and summer camps, and the club members build the curriculum for those experiences. In addition to ground school instruction, activities include visits to Louisville International Airport (which included a tour of the fire and rescue vehicles), exploration of UPS cargo planes, and the chance to fly.
- Taking ownership. The flight club was given two rooms on the second floor of the hangar, and they quickly went to work personalizing the meeting and classroom space. As a group, the teens painted, brought in furniture and a refrigerator, and even have a ping-pong table. “It makes me so happy to come here. I love the opportunities to meet so many people and to learn all of the different things I can do in aviation,” Sara says.
- Buying their own plane. The adult mentors for the club volunteer their time, but renting planes was a financial burden for the kids. They solved this problem by holding a raffle. Club members sold $100 tickets, with a prize of a private flight to the destination of the winner’s choice within a 500-mile radius of Louisville. The kids sold 550 tickets and purchased a 1970 Cessna 150 K plane with the $55,000 they raised. Iman proudly says, “It’s not just our leadership that is doing the work for the club. Every member sold tickets for the raffle. The plane really belongs to all of us.”
Flight Club 502 is eager to share its love of flying. Interested persons can email firstname.lastname@example.org.