It may have been a brief flight Saturday morning from the Greeneville Municipal Airport, but it marked a significant milestone for retired Air Force Lt. Col. Bill Powley and his efforts to give young people an opportunity to literally fly into their future.
With the flight, Col. Powley taught his 10,000th student in Northeast Tennessee. Greene County Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps students Jeremy Hankins, Isaac Michalenko and George Rapp were his 9,998th-10,000th students.
Powley, a Vietnam veteran who has flown F-16, F-4 and A -7 military aircraft, is founder of the F.L.I.G.H.T. — Flight Lesson Instructional Grants Helping Teens — Foundation, which provides resources for aviation education in 22 regional high schools.
“This is not about me, it is about the kids and this program” he said. “I was as excited today to take these three young men up as I was my first student.”
“God has been good to me and blessed me with the health to continue to do this,” he continued. “My wife has asked me if I will ever retire, but when you see the faces of the kids the first time they fly — I just can’t get away.”
In the flight on Saturday, Powley showed the students maneuvers such as a bombing dive and let them experience 0 and 2 G-forces in flight.
The F.L.I.G.H.T. Foundation recently signed a contract to extend its educational programs in the Greene County School System. “That makes this a special place for this milestone,” Powley continued.
The program has received support from local airports, their fixed base operators and leaders in aviation in the region. He thanked local businessman and philanthropist Scott Niswonger for his continued support of the program, and Pam Smead, who heads Greeneville Aviation Services, the airport’s fixed base operator, for providing a place for his airplane.
Powley also thanked parents for allowing their children to take part in the program. “It takes great courage, particularly if that is your only son or daughter, to let them go up on a flight,” he said. “The parents are okay when you are there as a teacher, but their faces change when it is time for that solo flight.”
The colonel also expressed his appreciation to the Air Force Junior ROTC programs in Northeast Tennessee. There are other programs that offer aviation orientation and flight lessons to high schools around the country, he said, but most are extracurricular programs outside the regular school day.
“We have been able to gain access that others don’t have in schools through the Junior ROTC,” he said.
Powley was first able to bring the aerospace education program to the Junior ROTC program in Unicoi County in 1992. It was then offered in Sullivan County schools beginning in 2001.
In a brief ceremony following the flight, resolutions passed in the state Senate and House of Representatives were presented to Powley. State Sen. Rusty Crowe, R-3rd, of Washington County, said he was honored to sponsor the resolution to recognize a program that has been important in the lives of many young people in Northeast Tennessee.
As the son of a veteran who flew a B-24 bomber, Crowe said he knows the importance that aviation has played in the nation’s history as well as the opportunities it brings to young people now.
Prior to reading from resolutions, State Rep. David Hawk, R-5th, of Greeneville, said he was honored to be able to work with Powley to continue to provide an important educational opportunity for the region’s students. Hawk sponsored the resolution in the state House of Representatives.
When Powley has called with concerns about funding, Hawk said he has been thankful to be able to connect him with people who helped find resources to keep the program going.
A resolution and a certificate from U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, R-1st, of Johnson City, presented by Darryl Brady from the congressman’s local office are among Powley’s latest honors. He has been inducted into the Tennessee Aviation Hall of Fame and recognized as the Tennessee Aviation Person of the Year.
Greeneville Mayor W.T. Daniels presented medallions to the three Greene County students in recognition of their accomplishment, while Powley presented them buttons from the F.L.I.G.H.T. Foundation.
Major David Wims, an instructor for the Greene County Junior ROTC program, said that the opportunity to take the aviation orientation course with Powley is good for students.
Many have never been up in an airplane, and the experience may lead them to decide that aviation is not for them, he said, but for others it sparks an interest in flying and a possible career in aviation.
It is eye-opening to some students to learn of the many careers available in aviation, and most are available to them wherever they may want to live in the country, Wims continued.
Students from all four county high schools participate in the Junior ROTC program. The students flying on Saturday represented Chuckey-Doak and West Greene high schools.