PITTSBURG, Kan. — They came from all walks of life and from across the state: an oral surgeon, a retired air traffic controller, business executives. They flew equally diverse aircraft: World War II-era planes, modern Cessna single engine planes and a futuristic-looking Long-EZ.
But the more than 20 pilots who landed Wednesday at Pittsburg’s Atkinson Airport have one thing in common: The aviation bug bit them early, and they want to pass on their passion for flying to youths.
So much so that they agreed to volunteer not just their time, but their planes and fuel to participate in the second Kansas Aviation Expo, a partnership of state aviation officials, the Kansas Commission on Aerospace Education, and the pilots themselves.
Their audience in Pittsburg, one of nine stops on a three-day tour, was more than 250 eighth-graders.
“We want to highlight all the different things you can do with aviation. Aviation, if you think about it as a career, it’s not just being a pilot or making planes out at Wichita,” said Jesse Romo, director of aviation for the Kansas Department of Transportation.
He noted that youths could grow up to design airports, design aircraft, become air traffic controllers and more.
Eight companies in Pittsburg own jets housed at the airport and use them regularly for business travel. Event sponsors Names & Numbers phone directory company and Mpix are among them.
It makes it possible for us to go see our customers and our employees … we have 12 different offices around the country,” said Names & Numbers president Ken Brock, 69, who has flown since he was 20.
Brock’s wife, Debbie, is a private pilot. One son, Bob Brock, is a retired Air Force pilot, and the other, Ron Brock, is a private pilot.
Two corporate jets owned by Names & Numbers were on display for students to see, and pilot Chris Hoffman pointed out features and answered questions.
“Aviation gets in your blood,” he told one group. “It’s something you just love and it becomes part of who you are.”
Tom Reed, the corporate pilot for Leisure Time Products/Backyard Discovery, which is based at the airport’s industrial park, also assisted with the event.
“The fact of the matter is, we can load four senior executives or salespeople onto a plane, drop two off in Dallas, two off at Mobile, then bring them back from meetings the same day,” he said. “It’s much more productive and efficient than commercial airline travel to the business sector.”
Perhaps attracting the most attention, however, were four pilots who arrived in their vintage World War II-era aircraft in formation and with smoke trails.
Bi-plane pilot Greg Largen, a 62-year-old Baxter Springs native who now lives at Stearman Field and owns one, said at one time there were 8,000 of the Kansas-built planes in use by cadets training for the war.
“I took my first flight out of Miami, Oklahoma, when I was in high school, then went to Crowder at Neosho and flew with a fellow there and took ground school,” he said. “I’ve been in the air ever since. It’s a marvelous thing. And I’m here to pass that on.”
On Oct. 11, Atkinson Airport will be the host for Young Eagles Day from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Registration for 20-minute airplane rides for youths 8 to 17 on a first-come, first-served basis will begin at 8 a.m. Rides will begin at 9 a.m. and end at 2 p.m. Numerous airplanes, from corporate jets to radio controlled models, also will be on display.