Safely back on the ground, Duncan Blankenship II strolled back to the hangar and talked about flying high above Floyd County.
“It was really a breathtaking view to look out and see the snow still on the roofs,” the seventh-grader said after his trip with TigerFlight Foundation pilot Tom Calvenelli on Saturday at Richard B. Russell Regional Airport. “It was fun when he let me take control for a little bit.”
Duncan and 11 other Model Middle School seventh-grade students are part of a program offered by TigerFlight that stresses character development.
The organization’s youth challenge program is based on adopting seven character traits — to be respectful, honest, courageous, honorable, moral, faithful and responsible.
TigerFlight board member Phil Cataldo spoke to the students before flying Saturday about the important relationship between beliefs, dreams, goals and results.
“You are designed to succeed,” Cataldo said. “When belief in yourself is high, you look for a dream to obtain by setting a bigger goal and getting better results.”
Mark Brereton, a British-born pilot who became a paraplegic after a motorcycle racing wreck, talked about how he never let his situation limit his goals.
He found a way to still fly helicopters after his injuries limited the use of his legs.
“You might hit a road bump along the way, but there is always a way to do what you really want to do,” Brereton said.
“You’ve got to trust me on that one.”
Model Middle School teacher Duncan Blankenship said he met with other seventh-grade teachers when TigerFlight President and CEO David Wright contacted him about the program.
“We selected kids that we thought would be interested in it and get something out of it in the long run,” Blankenship said. “I used to fly planes, and to give these kids that experience is special.”
Wright said a grant from Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association is helping TigerFlight expand the youth challenge program to Model and all other middle schools in Rome and Floyd County.
The continuing part of the program consists of collecting challenge coins, each with one of the seven character traits engraved on one side, courtesy of Ford, Gittings & Kane Jewelers.
Students are tasked with identifying a person who exhibits that trait and writing about them before they are able to get the next coin.