In Tennessee there are a growing number of education opportunities that allow youth to develop an interest in aviation and to explore the aviation and aerospace field as a career.
One of those highly successful programs for teenagers has been around for 27 years. Known as FLIGHT (Flight Lesson Instructional Grants Helping Teens) Foundation, the organization has received many accolades and been supported by grants over the past 21 years, since its incorporation as a 501c3 in 1998. The most significant grant has been from the Tennessee Aeronautics Division from 2000-2018 at an average annual grant of just under $32,000 a year.
TDOT Aeronautics is proud of the support the department has been able to provide to the FLIGHT Foundation over the years, and according to John Briggs, Assistant Director for the Division, the FLIGHT Foundation does much great work promoting aviation to young people, particularly in underserved areas of east Tennessee.
Current donors to FLIGHT include Scott Niswonger, FedEx Corporation, and the Ray Foundation. With this outstanding support, the program received recognition from the National Aviation Hall-of-Fame in 2010 as Lt. Colonel Bill Powley, the founder of FLIGHT Foundation and Flight Instructor, received the A. Scott Crossfield award as the top aerospace science instructor in the nation.
In 2013, Col. Powley, a retired Air Force fighter pilot with 347 combat missions in Vietnam in the F-4 and A-7, was inducted into the Tennessee Aviation Hall-of-Fame for his FLIGHT Foundation program. To date, the program has flown over 10,900 students on orientation flights from more than 30 schools; soloed 198 students from 26 high schools, home-schooled, six colleges/vocational schools and had 17 private pilots.
In 2018, TDOT Aeronautics revised the Education and Outreach Program and advertised the grant program to STEM schools across Tennessee, and according to Briggs, the goal was for more students to participate in educational programs that would influence their future pursuit of aviation education and/or an aviation career.
“In 2018, we received 22 applications from educational institutions wanting to educate students in the field of aviation,” said Briggs. “In the past two years, the Education and Outreach Program has become very competitive. This means more students have an opportunity to explore aviation in Tennessee.”
As with every program where the needs exceed the available resources, Briggs confirmed that difficult choices must be made in order to achieve a responsible and equitable distribution of State funds. Due to the competitiveness of the program and the limited $200,000 annual budget, not everyone received State funding in 2019 or 2020. However, Briggs said, everyone remains a valued advocate for aviation in Tennessee.”
Robert “Bob” Woods, former Aviation Director for the Tennessee Department of Transportation, and someone who has spent his career in the aviation industry, shared “that it is not so much the number of private pilots that actually result, it’s the number of current and future Americans that have and will gain an appreciation and knowledge of what and how much general aviation contributes and does in this great country.”
The FLIGHT Foundation was established in Tennessee for students of all ages. The non-profit chartered foundation was formed to provide funding to ensure the continuance of an already proven and established aerospace education program in Air Force Junior ROTC at Unicoi County High School. In 2002 the program moved to Sullivan County, and in 2018 relocated to Greene County.
In June 1998, the first solo cadet went to the Air Force Academy (USAFA), and since then a total of eight solo students have received appointments to USAFA and three to West Point. Twelve solo students have enrolled in the flight program at Middle Tennessee State University as professional pilots and one at Purdue.
FLIGHT Foundation’s total flights to date are 6,368. To find out more about this outstanding program visit http://flightfoundation.com/index.html.
Bob Woods was a contributor to this article.