Southeast Aviators (SEA), a group of pilots and aviation enthusiasts, will celebrate their first anniversary with an inaugural fly-in on Aug. 27.
The purpose of SEA is to promote participation and share information relating to general aviation and related fields. Its purpose is also to promote and advocate for minority pilot participation in general aviation and related careers.
Greenville pilots Theron Burton and Clint Thompson have launched SEA in an effort to create a network group of minority pilots throughout the Southeast.
Being a black pilot or a minority is a rarity in a sense, said Burton, a Greenville resident and owner of Connect Electronic Business Solutions (EBS), an IT company.
“The main reason that I wanted to create this group was get minority pilots together where we would get to know each other and, together, get more involved in what’s going on with the aviation community,” said Burton.
Burton was 12 when he knew he wanted to do something in the aviation industry.
Even when becoming a pilot wasn’t affordable as he got older, his interest never waned.
There were times when all he could do was go to the airport, look at the airplanes and watch them take off from the observation fence. He’d read about airplanes and found everything he could about them on the internet.
He even built himself a flight simulator to get a less expensive, but real feel for flying.
Burton found the reality of flying “kind of terrifying the first time.”
“It’s difficult. It seems fun and cool, but it’s not easy,” he said. “Many times I wanted to give up, but if it’s something that you really like to do and it’s a passion, you’ll find a way to do it. I kept doing it. I kept forcing myself to fly.”
The thrill of successfully flying solo for the first time was worth everything he endured to get to that point, Burton said.
“I was so proud of myself and honestly, I was like, ‘I’ve piloted a plane. Now I can quit if I want to. I can say I flew an airplane and not have to go through all this stuff again and call it day,'” he said. “That would’ve been the easy way out. But you’ve got to stick with it. That’s my thing in life.”
Burton said he went on to obtain his pilot’s license and bought a Cessna 182.
He was pre-flighting his airplane at the South Carolina Technology and Aviation Center, home of the old Donaldson Airport, when he met Thompson.
“That was the first time I saw another black pilot out on the airfield,” Burton said. “He actually came over and started talking with me. We exchanged numbers and I called him a couple of weeks later and said, ‘You know, we should get a group together.'”
Thompson called pilots he knew and they called others they knew. The group grew from there.
SEA’s fly-in will begin at 11 a.m. and be held at the Donaldson Jet Center at the Donaldson Field Airport.
The event will feature a variety of speakers, including an aviation medical examiner who will discuss the upcoming changes to the 3rd class medical, and an avionics installer who will discuss options for complying with the upcoming ADS-B requirement.
There will also be static displays of various single and twin engine aircraft.
SEA has partnered with The Mentoring and Leadership Development Institute (TMALDI) to provide food for the event.
TMALDI, a partner to entities such as the City of Mauldin, is an organization dedicated to helping boys from homes headed by single mothers develop into confident productive young men.
Attendance for the event is free of charge. All funds raised from the sale of food will go to support TMALDI.
Visit www.facebook.com/seaviators for more information.