Jack Lewis of
North Branch, Michigan, in front of his Piper Warrior called “The
Lovebird.” He has flown about 1,079 Young Eagles, many with
special needs. He is also EAA Chapter 1303’s Young Eagles
Jack Lewis remembers a young man with
significant emotional problems. He struggled in school and didn’t fit
But then Lewis gave him a Young Eagles
ride, opening the boy up to the possibilities and awakening his passion
for flight. That young man is now in college, pursing an aviation degree
from Northern Michigan University.
It’s youth like that—the ones you can
tell that you really touched—that make the time and effort put into
the Young Eagles program worth it.
“You see a change,” Lewis said. “It’s
like a metamorphosis. They board the plane as a caterpillar and they
leave it as a butterfly.
“I like to think that we plant a seed.
My goal is to introduce as many young people to aviation as I can, and
to help them see the many careers and opportunities that center around
Lewis has been flying Young Eagles for
more than 12 years. He flies a lot of special needs youth and their
siblings with EAA Chapter 1303 in Lapeer, Michigan, where he also serves
as the chapter’s Young Eagles coordinator. He has more than 1,079
flights to his name, and has spent countless hours also working with the
ground crew at EAA flight rallies.
“Each child has a different reaction,”
he said. “It ranges from total amazement to being stoic—that is,
until the flight is over and they’re on the ground. Then they’re
Lewis, who has been in a wheelchair since
breaking his back in an accident in 1981, said his example allows youth
to see that limitations shouldn’t stop them from accomplishing
Although Lewis was interested in aviation
as a child, it wasn’t something he pursued until after his accident.
In 1987, he attended a speech where the presenter challenged the
audience to take one dream and make it happen.
“I couldn’t identify a dream I had,”
he said. “Since the accident, all I had focused on was surviving.”
“Flying fed my soul,” Lewis said. “It
was the internal fuel that kept me pushing past the hard times.”
That’s also one of the messages he
brings to the Young Eagles he flies. “Aviation is really a lot like
life. Before you take off, you file a flight plan and have an idea where
you’re going. But sometimes you need to deviate from the flight plan.
You need to be flexible…”
Lewis hopes that he can have an impact on
some of the Young Eagles. “Often parents of children with special
needs are more restrictive because they don’t want their child to be
discouraged,” he said. “I hope they see me and rethink the
parameters of what is possible.”
Young Eagles Executive Director Steve
Buss said the Young Eagles program has provided more than 1.55 million
free flights to youth, thanks to 43,000 volunteer pilots and more than
80,000 ground crew members who have given of their time and talents
since the program began in 1992.
“For a lot of the pilots, the Young
Eagles program is a place for them to give back,” Buss said. “Someone
gave them a break—either took them for a ride, recommended a flight
instructor, or whatever—and this is a way to pay back that favor while
Young Eagles flights will be given
between 9 a.m.- noon on Thursday and Friday, depending on weather and
air traffic conditions. To sign up for a flight, or learn more about the
program, stop by the Young Eagles booth, located near the intersection
of Waukau Avenue and Knapp Street Road. The building is open 9 a.m.-5