It's Happening: Pilots with Passion - a Bird's Eye View of Bridgeport

By Julie Perine on April 02, 2018 from It’s Happening via

It had been several years since I had been up in a small aircraft, so when Fairmont State University’s Joel Kirk offered to take me flying in the aviation program’s new Cessna 172 Skyhawk, I jumped at the chance.
“Bring your camera. You’ll get some good pictures,” he said.
And, of course, I did. Flying at under 1,000 feet, my lens captured some cool views of our city - Wayne Jamison Field and schools along Johnson Avenue, Bridgeport Recreation Complex and Charles Pointe, to name a few.
But the real views; the real story was the student pilots – those who had learned to maneuver aircraft right there at Fairmont State’s flight school. Though Joel extended the invitation to take me flying, he told me upon arrival that he was sending me up with one of his top-notch students, Tyler Lucas, who now serves as a flight instructor for the program. Another, Greg Lloyd, came along for the ride.
Their passion for flying was written all over their faces. Before we even made it to the plane, I was immersed in their stories.
Tyler graduated in 2013 from Tug Valley High School with deeply-rooted aspirations to be a military pilot. The Mingo County native – son of a coal miner and a nurse – had begun his flight training while still attending high school. Everything was going according to plan until he ran into a medical technicality which prevented him from pursuing his dream. He was obviously thrilled to discover FSU’s aviation program. He enrolled immediately and said he couldn’t be happier with what had resulted.
Greg is from Morgantown. He started volunteer work with the Civil Air Patrol while attending University High. He has strong ties with the baseball field and has served as a youth baseball league umpire. He, too, felt he had struck gold by enrolling in Fairmont State’s flight school.
Lucas and Lloyd spoke highly and enthusiastically about Joel and how he has turned around the program in a year’s time, taking it from less than a dozen students to a classroom pushing 40, nearly to capacity.
Before leaving the runway at the Robert C. Byrd Aerospace Education Center, Tyler did a complete flight pre-check; examining the plane, establishing contact with control operations and obtaining a weather report. With Tyler and I in the front and Greg in the backseat, we taxied down the runway, steering the plane with the rudder pedals. Excitement built as we picked up speed and ultimately lifted off.
The pilots were very professional, but also hospitable. You could tell they love what they do as he love sharing that experience with others.
Tyler gave me an overview of the electronic instrument panel and steering system and pointed out that because of the wind, it might be a bumpy flight.
I hardly noticed the turbulence. I was too caught up in the sights and sounds; the thrill of soaring just below the clouds with a bird’s eye view of Bridgeport, then Clarksburg. After affirmation from control operations, we circled a little before landing. Tyler let me take the wheel. It didn’t take long until we seemed sort of sideways in the sky. Tyler said, “We were fine,” calmly explaining what to do to remedy the situation.
I was only in the air for a little while with these guys, but their passion was contagious. I thought of Joel’s words when we chatted a couple weeks ago. He said flying was in his blood, so to speak.
“I had an uncle who was an airline pilot and since I can remember, I was building airplane models and going with my dad to air shows,” he said. “I started ground school when I was 14. I loved flying at Dobbins Air Force Base in Atlanta. I fell in love with it.”
By the time he was 16, he had his private pilot license and by his 18th birthday he had signed up with the U.S. Marine Corps to attend flight school. He flew with the Marines for 12 years and thereafter with the Air Force for another 12 years.
With two and a half decades of military experience, Joel was retired and running Kross Kreek Farms; perfectly happy with his life. Then he was asked to come on board FSU’s aviation program, taking the chief pilot position and managing the program.
“It wasn’t about the money to me. It was about the legacy,” Joel said. “I couldn’t pull up the rope to the greatest career, knowing there was a shortage. Who was going to train these kids?”
He was blessed with opportunity. It was time to pass it on. Perhaps the plan was even written in the stars.
“I ended up for some reason in Bridgeport with the background that I do and living six miles from the only FAA 141 flight program in the state.”
Read more about FSU's aviation program and the Cessna Skyhawk recently added to its fleet HERE

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