When Bob Speight was a child, he was fascinated by airplanes. Years have passed but that certainly has not changed. It led to lessons, a pilot’s license and a lifelong passion for flying.
Even today, the commander of the local Civil Air Patrol squadron still marvels at the way aircraft break the bonds of Earth to soar unfettered.
“I think I’ve always been interested in flying,” he said. “Now I work at the King and Prince Hotel during the day but I’m fortunate enough to be able to still fly in Civil Air Patrol. It was a way for me to get back into aviation.”
Like Speight, Jerry Latvala shares that passion, one that was also sparked in childhood.
“It is in my genes, I think. My father flew for Pan American for 30 years. My brother flies, my niece, my mother-in-law, my son is also a pilot,” he said. “But as long as I can remember, if a plane was flying overhead, I would look up and try to figure out what kind of plane it was.”
Latvala has been flying since 1980, and now serves as the president of the local Experimental Aircraft Association. Both Speight and Latvala are heavily involved in local aviation and, while they feel it is strong in the community as whole, they fear the younger generation doesn’t often consider it as a career option. They also believe it not always the frequent focus for students when considering college. That is something they are hoping to change through a relatively new program, annual Youth Aviation Day.
Speight says the first event was held last year and attempted to expose area students to the various careers in the aviation industry.
“This is our second year for Youth Aviation Day. We just want to get more young people exposed to the different types of careers there are in aviation. There is more than just pilots. There is everything from dispatchers to mechanics to air traffic controllers. There are many different things you can do in aviation,” Speight said.
While last year’s event was a success, they are hoping to get even more participation this year. The event will be held from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Oct. 21 at 70 Gruber Lane, St. Simons Island. High school students are welcome, as are middle schoolers. There will be number of interesting features and exhibits. Flight simulators used by pilots will be available for students to use. Representatives from Middle Georgia State University, members of the military and local aviation professionals will be on hand to share their experiences and what opportunities are available. Aircrafts will be on display as well.
“Middle Georgia State University has a wonderful aviation education program and not many people think about it. They tend to think about UGA, Georgia Southern and Georgia Tech but (Middle Georgia State) is also a HOPE scholarship school. There are a lot of great programs and they can make very decent money in those fields. They could do anything from piloting to being an aircraft mechanic to manning an airport like Rob Burr does here,” Latvala said.
Speight says that participants seemed receptive to the event last year.
“We got good feedback. We had some ROTC kids that came out. They really enjoyed it. We will also have a nice lunch ... so if nothing else, you get fed,” Speight said with a chuckle.
In order to prepare enough food, registration is strongly encouraged. Those interested may sign up by visiting www.flygcairports.com. Forms are available at http://flygcairports.com/events-ssi/85-youth-aviation-day.html. Both Speight and Latvala hope that students will take the chance to learn something new and possible plot an exciting future for themselves.
“My view is that they need to know these that these opportunities are out there. People just focus so much on becoming a pilot but there are so many other jobs out there,” Latvala said. “In addition to this, the Experimental Aircraft Association is also holding a Young Eagle Rally in two weeks. Then we will actually take kids up in the planes. It is a different way to promote this same idea.”