Battle Creek, Mich is many things. For some, it is the fictional home of a recently cancelled television show. For others, it is none other than Cereal City, USA. However for Richard Bartlett, Battle Creek, Mich was aviation mecca. It was the city that offered him the access to the key that would unlock the world for him.
Growing up in a military family, a child never knows where life will take them. Fortunately for Bartlett, his U.S. Marine parents were eager to re-establish their Michigan roots. Although his father was originally from Flint, his ultimate goal was to get back to the mitten state. This eventually led to a civil service job at the Battle Creek Federal Center - A move that would have lasting implications for his young son.
As a young child, Battle Creek offered a number of catalysts to peak ones interest. During his formative years, all he had to do was look up – A-10 Warthogs swarmed up high. These tanks in the sky, along with Bartlett’s military father, seeded an interest in the young dreamer’s mind. Coupled with the annual Battle Creek Field of Flight, Bartlett came down with the aviation flu – and he had it bad.
Fortunately for Bartlett, as his passion was building, Western Michigan University’s aviation program was looking for a new home. Much like the Andrea Gale, Bartlett was facing his own personal “Perfect Storm” - A-10s above him, a top-rated aviation program relocating to his hometown, Thunderbirds zooming around during the Fourth of July. As he thinks fondly back on this time, “Battle Creek was rocking for many years!” It is easy to understand why the young Bartlett became enamored with the field of aviation.
With aviation fever quickly taking over his body, Bartlett experienced something that only increased his hunger – a discovery flight. Recalling the gravity defying experience, Bartlett recalled, “Wow. It was amazing. I took the ride from a local flight school. The process of taking off, landing, and performing basic maneuvers was exhilarating. It also changed my perspective of the world. For the first time in my life, I saw my home from the sky. It was incredibly cool!” The flight experience sealed the deal; Bartlett searched for anything and everything aviation.
Eventually, the searching led him to the newly established Western Michigan University School of Aviation located at the W.K. Kellogg Airfield. His investigations uncovered the aviation afterschool program offered by WMU. While attending the program, Bartlett did some initial ground school and immersed himself into the world of an aviation pilot. As he recalls, “Prioritization to fly was given to the student with the most extra credit. Let’s just say, there wasn’t an assignment that I didn’t do.” Ultimately, the payoff was worth the work. Applying what he learned in ground school, the young pilot was rewarded with a flight experience in the University’s Mooney.
From his experience in the afterschool program, Bartlett became aware of an aviation summer camp offered at the University. This experience resulted in the development of two defining characteristics that carried Bartlett forward – the importance of networking and paying it forward. Reflecting on the experience, Bartlett said, “Attending the camp, I was overwhelmed by the investment of time WMU Alumni gave. These people gave their most precious commodity – time! This is something that has stuck with me all these years. From that moment on, I have always believed since others gave me time, it is my responsibility to give mine to someone else.”
Bartlett also developed his understanding about mentorship and networking during his initial aviation experience. “Two people were instrumental in helping develop my passion for being a pilot and aviation: Tom McLaughlin and Dominic Nicolai,” said Bartlett. “Prior to attending the WMU afterschool program and aviation summer camp, I was considering Michigan State University and the Air Force ROTC program. However, those two mentored me and helped me understand why the aviation program at WMU was a better option for me.”
Not only did McLaughlin and Nicolai have a profound effect on the young pilot, so did Western Michigan University. “The camp did a lot for me, both personally and professionally. I was able to make professional connections with people within the industry,” recalled Bartlett. “Also, the University reached out to me personally and made things happen. That meant a lot to me, especially for a kid that couldn’t initially overcome the financial burdens that come with aviation.”
Moving from camper to co-ed was the next logical progression for the eager young pilot. Memories from the time spent on the Western Michigan University campus are numerous, with names like Tom Deckard, Mark Murphy, Bill Rantz, and Lori Brown permeating the conversation. These instructors helped Bartlett navigate the world of aviation, strengthening his understanding, and solidifying his passion. “The faculty and instructors were here for the right reason,” remembered Bartlett. “They were all passionate about their craft and committed to the students. Many brought real-world, relevant experience to the classroom.”
In addition to the academic memories, Bartlett fondly recalls many of the social interactions that took place during his tenure at WMU. “Hands down – football games and spirit days!” stated Bartlett. “The student section at Waldo Stadium was crazy. Not only was their a passion for the game among the student body, we also had Greg Jennings running all over the field. It was a great time!”
Beyond sports, Bartlett remembered cookouts hosted by the College of Aviation. Reflecting on these times, memories turn to the interaction between student, faculty and staff. Operating outside of each other’s normal environment usually resulted in both sides letting their guards down. The net result being, both sides got to know each other on a more personal level.
After graduating in 2003 with a bachelor’s degree in aviation flight science, Bartlett was ready to “kick the tires and light the fires.” Using knowledge gained way back in his camp days, he knew the importance of networking and making connections. While still an undergrad, Bartlett worked line services at Marshall Airport and met Jonathan and Liz Amundsen. One wintery day in March, the Amundsens, who had relocated to Winter Haven, FL, called Bartlett to ask a favor, “Would you be interested in flying our 150 down to Florida?” Like the Road Runner of Looney Tunes fame, Bartlett was in the plane heading south; the only thing in his wake was a ball of dust.
Soon after arriving in Florida, he began planting seeds for relocation. Understanding the need to network and make connections, he immediately introduced himself to the FBO manager. Shortly after the introduction, he asked the manager for a job. With no risk, there can be no reward.
Having secured a job, Bartlett made the official move to Florida in August of 2004 – the infamous year of hurricanes in Florida – namely Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne. This intensive six weeks was mirrored by Bartlett’s experience at the Winter Haven airport. Said Bartlett, “I was a line service rep, so I pumped gas, moved airplanes, or anything else that needed to get done. I will say, that was the best job on that airport! It gave me the opportunity to network and meet all sorts of pilots, many of which were heavy hitters in the aviation community.”
Making things happen was second nature for Bartlett. Building on his network and making connections, he soon became the personal pilot, flying a Piper Lance, for a local car dealer. Additionally, in 2005 he earned his certified flight instructor rating, racking up about 1,100 hours at Jack Brown’s Sea Plane Base flying a J3 Cub on straight floats. Simultaneously, Bartlett helped a friend put a flight school together in Winter Haven, which enriched his understanding of the aviation maintenance world. He built up his multi-engine time flying Piper Aztecs. Thinking back to the time, all Bartlett can say, “Basically, I lived at the airport!”
Bartlett’s dedication and perseverance paid off when he was hired for his first corporate aviation job: Walkabout Air, a full-service charter management company founded in 1995 by one of the original founders of Outback Steakhouse, Inc. After spending the first 8 months of employment flying a King Air 200, the right seat of the Beech Jet Hawker 400 opened up. Essentially, he went from the right seat of the 200 to the right seat of the Hawker.
After another 8 months, Bartlett moved to Gulfstream, operating as a contract pilot. While this was a great experience, it wasn’t paying the bills - he wanted a full time employment. Bartlett found his opportunity in 2008 with Travel Management Company. Said Bartlett, “TMC is a great place to work. I have a set schedule and can live wherever I want. One of the biggest advantages – when I’m off work, I’m off. Another positive, there is a large contingent of WMU alumni here!”
Another great perk working for TMC is the clientele. “We see a lot of politicians, athletes and other interesting people,” said Bartlett. “I have had the opportunity to fly fellow Michigander, Derek Jeter and Richard Branson.” Of his experience with Branson, Bartlett recalled flying from Philadelphia to JFK, “Mr. Branson was in the back, and after we touched down, he said, ‘That was a good landing!’ I have to say, that made me feel pretty good.”
However, one of the greatest advantages of working for TMC is his ability to pay it forward. Putting his money where his mouth is, Bartlett gave the ultimate gift this past summer: his time! Reflecting on his formative years as a aviation camper, Bartlett decided the time was right – he needed to own up to his responsibility of giving back his time. “As I said earlier, those early mentors in my life gave up the most precious commodity we all have – time. I have now reached a point in my life where I can give up some of mine.”
During the spring of 2015, a job posting was placed on the WMU College of Aviation employment page: Camp Counselors Wanted. Bartlett jumped at the chance, sending in his application. The time had come for him to give back, and he was quickly hired. In August, the time had come for him to graduate from camper to counselor, something he anticipated eagerly.
Working as an Aviation Camp Counselor reinvigorated Bartlett in an unexpected way. “Don’t get me wrong, I still love aviation. However, having a few years under my belt, I started to take the career for granted, the passion I had when I was younger had waned a bit. However, working as a counselor, I got to witness the enthusiasm and excitement of aviation from the perspective of a high school student. Let me tell you, their passion is contagious! It is nothing but good, positive energy. Their passion has reignited, and refueled my passion!”
With just over a decade since graduating from Western Michigan University, Bartlett’s career is wide open. Opportunities are ever expanding, and the future continues to shine bright. As a camper, Bartlett dreamed of taking to the skies. As a captain, he’s made his dreams a reality. Just as important, he’s helped to plant the same dreams in a number of future aviators. Success has never felt so good!
Kentucky is famous for its bourbon distilleries, bluegrass music, a certain Colonel who made chicken “finger licking good,” and horse racing. In the state are the city of Louisville and the Louisville International Airport, which was chosen in 2005 as the UPS heavy airfreight hub and a 235-foot air traffic control tower. Climbing the 22 stories on a regular basis is Bronson Barth, Western Michigan University alumni, Air Traffic Controller and aviation enthusiast.
As a child experiencing his formative years in Lapeer, MI, Bronson Barth just liked airplanes. The experience and awe of watching something so mammoth take to the skies was inspiring to the young Barth. Thinking back on the experience, Barth doesn’t recall a specific memory. “Looking back, I remember always wanting to see the airplanes. Every chance I got, I took it. If I had an opportunity to travel by the Detroit Airport with my parents, I was begging to stop and watch.”
Graduating from Lapeer East High School in 1988, Barth was positioned to pursue a degree in aviation. With the fascination that stemmed from the basic question, “How in the world can an 8,000 pound machine fly?” Barth pursued and obtained his private pilots license before graduation. “I learned to fly in your typical aircraft: Cessna 150s, 172, etc. It didn’t matter, because I was in the air.”
Arriving at Western Michigan University in 1988, Barth began working on his aviation degree. While studying about the aviation sciences, he had the opportunity to work with some of the aviation legends at WMU: Bob Aardema, Ron Sacket and Leard Wylie. According to Barth, “If I remember correctly, my fellow classmates were hesitant to take Mr. Wylie’s class. The rumors were his class was exceptionally hard. Listening to the stories, I put off taking his class. When I finally took it, I excelled in it and earned an ‘A.’ The most impressive thing about his class was his knowledge of aircraft. Mr. Wylie worked for Cessna, so you couldn’t skirt your way around the subject. He knew aircraft like the back of his hand.”
Like many aviation students, Barth made connections with many of his faculty. One of these relationships would alter his life and direct him down his current path as an Air Traffic Controller. “I was on campus one day and I received a call from Tom Deckard,” said Barth. “He wanted me to take a test with the FAA.” The test led to the opportunity to co-op in air traffic control, allowing him to spend a semester working with the FAA. Soon after graduating in April of 1993, Barth was hired full time with the FAA as an Air Traffic Controller.
Looking back on nearly 25 years of air traffic control, Barth continues to relish the job he has. “The best thing about the job, it is different every day. I never know what the weather is going to bring or what type of aircraft I am going to see and control.” During his tenure, Barth has spent time at the FAA Academy in Oklahoma City doing his initial training; he then spent a year and a half at MBS International Airport in Saginaw, MI. After which, he transferred to Tulsa, OK where he stayed for 12 years before moving to his current position in Louisville.
One thing about Air Traffic Controllers, they have a couple of retirement benchmarks. Controllers have a mandatory retirement age of 56, or can retire after 25 years of controlling active traffic. “My co-op time doesn’t count toward the active traffic requirement,” said Barth. “Therefore, I still have three years until I can retire.” When asked what he plans on doing afterwards, “I plan on doing as little as I can. Or, whatever I want!” For Barth, that may mean spending more time with his horses, which have become a regular weekend activity.
In addition to the diversity offered by the job, Barth has also enjoyed a couple of other aviation perks thanks to the job. In Tulsa, there was a substantial Warbird club whose members had a standing policy – “Never fly with an empty seat!” Who better to take than the off-duty controller who had a passion for aviation? “That was a great experience,” remembered Barth. “I got time in a T-6 Harvard, Extra 300, Scout Float Plane and several others.”
Memories of Western Michigan University go beyond his time in the aviation program. “There are a couple of things I can’t forget,” stated Barth. “Who could forget about the marshmallow fights at the Bronco football games! It got to the point, we were routinely patted down to ensure we weren’t carrying any marshmallow contraband.” Barth also has many fond memories of his last two years, which he spent as a resident advisor in Britton Hall.
Looking at the scope in an ATC tower, it is hard to see aviation as a small industry. There are hundreds of dots, all indicating some type of plane in action. However, as many people in the industry soon discover, it is incredibly small. For air traffic controllers, whose interactions are usually reserved to radio communication, their voice becomes their identification. “It can be very weird,” said Barth. “You don’t have visual identification cues, you use voice recognition. For example, I worked with a gentleman from Barbados while in Tulsa. Many years later, I was talking with him from Louisville and he recognized my voice. It solidified my belief in the smallness of the aviation profession.”
The world is a large place. Aviation has helped to make it smaller by connecting distant locations. Taking what he learned at WMU and building upon it, Bronson Barth is an integral part in making those places easier to access. Without him, and other air traffic controllers, the ease of air travel would be anything but easy. Not only does he control the airspace over Louisville, he occasionally welcomes a Bronco Aviator as they fly into his space. Next time you’re in the air over the Bluegrass State, make sure to say, “Go Broncos!” You may be talking with a fellow WMU Alumni.
Competition has a way of motivating people. From Pop Warner football to the National Spelling Bee, the thrill of going head to head against a peer has always roused individuals to be their best. In collegiate aviation, the National Intercollegiate Flying Association has had the same impact in the aviation industry. The competitive nature of the NIFA SAFECON events has elevated aviation professionals for nearly 100 years.
NIFA has benefited collegiate aviators for a long time. When talking to professionals in the industry, it is not uncommon to hear about tales of their years spent in college competing in the various NIFA events. However, as the industry moves to recruit the Next Generation of Aviation Professionals, a definitive disconnect was discovered. What about high school students? Was the industry missing a target audience as they worked to encourage the pursuit of aviation to the NGAP?
Enter Western Michigan University and our own competitive flight team, the Sky Broncos. Building upon a conversation that began at the 2014 Women in Aviation conference, Sky Bronco Coaches Ryan Seiler and Marty Coaker met with Tom Thinnes, the Recruitment and Outreach Manager for the College of Aviation. The decision was made to create a small committee with the goal of bringing the idea of the middle/high school Junior Flight Team to reality. Why shouldn’t high school students interested in aviation get a chance to compete and demonstrate their skill competence?
The concept was easy. Let’s take what the Sky Broncos do on a regular basis and introduce the skill set to local high school aviation programs. The general idea centered on local schools forming and managing ground event based teams. The teams would use a guide for prep and competition, with the Sky Broncos holding competition once a year at WMU’s College of Aviation. That competition would run tests similar to regional SAFECON’s in Aircraft Recognition, Manual Flight Computer, Simulated Comprehensive Aerial Navigation (SCAN) and Aircraft Pre-Flight.
Not only would the Junior Flight Team allow high school aviation programs the chance of providing an extracurricular activity to promote blossoming interest in aviation, it would also allow students the opportunity for “bragging rights!” How do they stack up against their peers? What are the skill sets of others from different schools? The Junior Flight Team competition would be the first time these students could get answers to these questions.
This past April, the first official Junior Flight Team competition was held on the College of Aviation campus. When first introduced, the committee dreamed big and introduced the concept to a large number of high school programs that offered an aviation component. The idea was to cast a wide net and see how many participants could be snared for the inaugural competition. However, sometimes “lofty goals” are met with “harsh realities.” While the competition initially had interest from six separate schools, it ended up featuring competitors from the West Michigan Aviation Academy and Kent Career Technical Center. However, those two schools brought almost twenty total students to compete!
An unforeseen benefit of the competition was the opportunity for collegiate competitors to interact and mentor high school students demonstrating an interest in aviation. The college students were able to share their passion about aviation with the young aviators. Team and event captains from the Sky Broncos Competitive Flight Team proctored and corrected the ground event tests and then ranked the students based on performance. The same was done for the pre-flight event with a generous time donation from WMU Chief Flight Instructor Tom Grossman and alumna Jennifer Prichard.
With the dust cleared and the competition finished, the points were tallied while the College of Aviation hosted a lunch for the competitors. This value added time provided an opportunity for the all-important networking component. Not only did the competitors get to know each other, they also had the opportunity to ask questions of the College of Aviation staff and flight team. Following lunch, the awards ceremony was held with each competitor receiving a gift bag and certificate of recognition for participating. Awards were sponsored by the College of Aviation, which donated awards for both 1st and 2nd place in each event as well as awards for the schools.
Successful? Most definitely! Participating students were engaged and motivated. Many of them approached their high school teachers and coaches to inquire about practicing during the summer. The feedback received was very positive and powerful from both schools. Building upon the success of the inaugural run, the goal is to grow and improve for next year. With a little networking, the committee believes it can increase the competitors as well as the competing schools next year. If you are interested in participating, please contact Western Michigan University at email@example.com or 269-964-6375.
People often asked Hank Williams Jr. why he did certain things -- a lot of them bad. In song and verse, Hank provided one of his trademarked replies, saying he was simply carrying on the “family tradition.”
For Tom and Tim Lechota, the family tradition has revolved around two things: aviation and Western Michigan University.
Originally, Tom Lechota was a “car guy.” Growing up in Flint, Mich., it was hard not to be. The automobile industry permeated the city. Young Tom had visions of following his father into the Lechota’s original tradition – cars. “I wanted to be an auto mechanic,” Lechota recalls "My Dad was a special auto mechanic for AC Spark Plug, which would later become AC-Delco. When the company came out with special gauges, my Dad would install them to test.” Combined with his Uncle Joe’s employment at Buick, the automotive industry was having a profound effect on the young lad.
But, based on his experience, the senior Lechota was determined to prevent his son from following in his footsteps. Little did the elder Lechota realize that all it would take was a visit to the local airport. On that fateful day, 10-year-old Tom accompanied his father to work. AC engineers were at the airport testing their latest product on a Bonanza in the Buick hangar, which became a regular stomping ground for the boy. “As I was in the Buick hangar watching the AC guys working on a fuel- injection system,” Lechota recalls, “I looked across the airfield. Landing was a squadron of Army/National Guard C-130s. Soon after landing, the backs open up and all of the soldiers exited. To say I was hooked was an understatement. From these experiences, aviation got into my blood.” His father had succeeded -- no automotive world for his impressionable son. Young Tom had his sights set higher: aviation!
After eight agonizingly long years, Tom Lechota found himself right where he wanted to be. As a high school graduate, he enrolled at Flint Junior College to pursue a degree in aviation flight technology. The seeds planted eight years earlier were bearing fruit: Lechota was going to be a pilot. As the school evolved into Genesee Community College (later to be renamed again as Mott Community College), the neophyte Lechota progressed into a certified pilot. “In typical aviation fashion, the two-year program at Genesee took me three years to complete,” he said. For many Michigan aviators, the blessings and the challenges of Michigan weather have always had an impact.
The Lechota Family Aviation Supporters
left to right: Grandpa, Grandma, Nancy, Aimee, and Jennifer during Tim's graduation celebration at Western Michigan Univesity's College of Aviation. Not pictured, brother Nick who was serving in Iraq at the time
Graduating in 1973, Lechota looked at his options. “At the time, you needed a four-year degree to break into the industry,” said Lechota. “I looked at several programs: Purdue, Western Michigan University, Parks College. Ultimately, I opted to attend WMU. Probably the biggest reason was the articulation agreements that existed between the University and Genesee Community College. Just about everything I took transferred.”
By 1974, there was more on Tom’s mind than aviation. After one year in the WMU program, Tom took off into the world of matrimony, marrying his sweetheart Nancy Bagby. She took a teaching position with the Kalamazoo Public Schools, helping to establish roots in the community. With a new wife and still working on his degree, Lechota followed the advice of Harley Behm, head of the WMU aviation program at the time, and pursued an airport internship in Kalamazoo. When offered the position, Lechota jumped at the chance, spending the entire year at the airport instead of the usual six months.
With opportunities falling in place for the young aviation professional, Lechota opted to pursue two other options for his resume. “I looked at the requirements,” he recalled, “and I only needed two more semesters to qualify for my airframe and powerplant (A&P) license. I figured, why not? The A&P will look good on my resume. That’s the only reason I did it.” For a similar reason, Lechota chose to minor in business as well. Taking advantage of these choices would have a profound impact on his later life.
Lechota walked across the stage in 1976 to grab his WMU degree. As a licensed pilot with an A&P, a minor in business, and significant aviation experience, he was poised for the next phase in a budding career – the job search.
With qualifications in three aspects of aviation, Lechota initially chose to follow the management track. Investigating an opportunity in Denver, the eager graduate learned a harsh lesson. “Stapleton Airport in Denver was looking for an ‘administration assistant’ at the time” Lechota said. “Unfortunately, this was a civil-service job and the company received 600 applicants for one position.” Not to be deterred, the job search continued.
Next was a phone interview with Welch Aviation in Alpena, Mich. “I was literally hired over the phone with the company wanting to know when I could start,” said Lechota. This began a great summer working as an A&P. So much for the A&P just to spruce up the resume!
While working for Welch, Lechota witnessed all sorts of great military aircraft. “Not only would F-4s land at the airfield, so would 50 to 60 C-130s at a time. There were so many, the last to land would have to park on the runway,” Lechota said. The C-130s were loaded with railroad ties that would then be flown and dropped over Grayling. The only negative to the job was the fact his wife was still in Kalamazoo where roots were being established. Making his way back to the southwestern part of the Mitten State, Lechota was hired by Kal-Aero where he spent the next six years. Starting out on single-engine aircraft, Lechota moved to twins, then big twins, and ended his tenure with Kal-Aero in the jet shop. He also spent six months in the War Bird shop, working for the legendary Maurice Hovious. While he thought the first six months at Welch was fun, this experience continues to compete for the best part of his career.
Fate can be fickle, and fruitful. Had Lechota decided not to spend the extra two semesters at WMU, he may have missed a great opportunity. Had he not returned to Kalamazoo to work for Kal-Aero, he may have missed out on another. Lechota was working on Citations when Amway brought its aircraft in for service. Amway became very impressed with his work ethic and dedication to detail.
When Amway purchased its 727, Lechota was offered the “aircraft cleaner” position posted by the Grand Rapids-based enterprise. Because he had too much experience, he turned down the offer. However, the company had its sights locked in on Lechota and offered him the position of crew chief one month later in 1983, launching a 31-year run at Amway.
While hired for the Citation and fixed-wing team, Lechota eventually moved into the rotary-wing division. “Looking back on this, I’m not sure why helicopters interested me,” he said. “My only experience was on Herm Linder’s Hiller at WMU.” What began as a mild interest developed into a lifelong career, with Lechota spending 22 years on Amway’s helicopter airframe.
In addition to duties as an A&P, Lechota, like other Amway employees, was trained as a flight attendant, which brought the opportunity to fly the world. Lechota has logged several trips around the world and visited six of the seven continents. “We tried to hit all seven,” he said. “Once we were on the very tip of South America, the other we were in Christchurch, New Zealand, which is the jumping-off point to Antarctica. While at those destinations, we asked ‘How can we get down there?’ While in Christchurch, we spent weeks trying to find an answer!”
The year before Lakota’s pivotal career move to Amway, he also experienced a pivotal change in his personal life: the birth of his first son. Tim Lechota was born while his father still worked at Kal-Aero. In an interesting twist of fate, the institution that paid for his birth would eventually pay him for his skill set.
Tim is the oldest of the three Lechota children, growing up with brother Nick and sister Aimee. Tim was infected with the aviation bug at an early age. “All I’ve ever known is aviation,” he said. “Airplanes have surrounded me my whole life.” Unlike the patriarch of the family, Tim’s initial interest always revolved around the mechanical end of aviation. “Fortunately for me, my Dad worked on a rotating weekend schedule at Amway,” Lechota recalled. “Dad would wake me up at 4 a.m. and we would head out to the Amway hangar where I would get to hang out all day.”
Being “baptized in av-fuel” seemed part of the Lechota household's way of life. When Tim wasn’t visiting the hangar, he was working on ways to expand his aviation footprint. Not to be satisfied by his “first flight” on May 9, 1983 – a few months after his birth – Tim started to quench his thirst for aviation. While most kids longed for G.I. Joes and Transformers for their birthdays, Tim held out for flight lessons, which his parents provided the young aviator each year. “What an experience. I was young and learning to fly,” Lechota said. “Mostly I flew the Cessna 150. If I was lucky, I got the 172.”
By high school, Tim was looking for any and all aviation opportunities, but not many options were available. Once again, fate was kind. With his mother in education, he was able to make connections that would help secure his future.
Knowing her son’s passion for aviation, Nancy Lechota approached Christine Dahl at the Kalamazoo Regional Educational Service Agency about aviation opportunities for high school students in Kalamazoo County. What would become K-RESA’s Education for Employment program in aviation placed Tim at the Air Zoo in Kalamazoo for his senior year. While there, Lechota worked on a variety of aviation projects. His design and manufacturing talents can still be seen on the Dauntless for which he designed the twin-gun mount located at the back of the aircraft. He did the paint scheme on the T-33 as well.
With graduation looming, Tim pondered higher education. “For me, choice of a career and where to study was a no-brainer,” Lechota said. “Unlike my Dad, I was going into maintenance and my fallback was flight. Western Michigan University’s College of Aviation was my first and only choice. Not only is it a great program, it is also right in my own back yard. With the fact my Dad is an alumnus, I looked no further than WMU.”
Upon arrival in the aviation world of WMU, Tim quickly learned the valuable lesson about networking and making connections. Leveraging a relationship between his teaching mother and the parent of one of her pupils, Lechota was able to open doors at WMU. The father of one of his mother’s kindergartners was Bill Feenstra, the head of maintenance at WMU’s College of Aviation. Connections can come from the craziest combinations.
Entering WMU with his EFE experience and a portfolio of detailed records, Lechota was recruited by Feenstra to intern in the WMU Fleet Maintenance Department. Although his mother’s connections helped, the well-versed youth sealed the deal himself. Lechota was instrumental in re-establishing the College of Aviation internship in fleet maintenance.
While at Western, Tim was recruited by the company that helped pay for his birth. Now known as Duncan Aviation, the company pursued him in a variety of capacities. “They wanted me to intern with them for several years, “he said. “However, at the time, the better fit for me was to stay at WMU. I was very involved in the WMU Fleet Maintenance Department, and really enjoyed what I was doing.” Lechota specialized on the Seneca airframe, working with the department from 2002 to 2006, first as an intern and then as a part-time A&P.
After graduating, Lechota went to work for Duncan in 2006. Based on his experiences, the Challenger team and the Learjet team at Duncan sought his services. Squaring off like the Jets and Sharks in “West Side Story,” the two airframe teams made their pitch. “The decision was pretty easy. I’m a big guy and I didn’t want to get stuck in a little aircraft!” The Challenger team won the challenge.
While at Duncan, Lechota worked on every business jet under the sun. However, more valuable than the work experience, was the networking opportunities. “People come to Duncan from all over,” Lechota recalls. “Many of the decision-makers, such as the pilot or director of maintenance, remain with the plane during the work. These people notice things: experience, quality, dedication and much more. These connections can lead to other jobs with other companies.”
Much like his father, monumental changes in employment accompanied monumental changes in his personal life. The same year Lechota was transitioning to Duncan Aviation, he married Jennifer Long, a WMU alumna of the College of Health and Human Services. With her job as an ER nurse, the second Lechota family would make another connection that would propel their lives.
Lechota said he knew a change was imminent. “While I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Duncan, I knew I didn’t want to do service center work for my entire life,” he said. “I had my sights on getting into the operational side of things. Secondary to that, I wanted in the helicopter market.”
While at a convention, wife Jennifer made a connection with AirCare. The company wanted to bring its maintenance in-house to help contain and control costs. Jennifer introduced Tim to the head of maintenance at AirCare. While still at Duncan, Lechota moonlighted as a contract employee with AirCare on Fridays and Saturdays. Lechota impressed AirCare with his reliability, responsibility and fairness, especially with billing. AirCare had found its man. Now, the parties needed to make it work.
Much like everything, all good things come to those who wait. The process to clear the job took some time. All the while Lechota continued to stay in touch. In September of 2010, Tim Lechota was hired full time with AirCare, where he is still employed. Both
Western Michigan University and aviation have impacted the Lechota families. Tom and Tim are alumni, Tom’s wife Nancy earned a master’s from the University, while daughter Aimee graduated with a degree in social work. The memories of WMU and the aviation program are strong and deep. Tom easily recalls some of the aviation greats who walked the halls at WMU: Clarence Van Deventer, Herb Linder, Curt Swanson, Larry Hoikka and John Cummins. For Tim, recollections of Pat Benton and Martin Grant make him smile. Not to be forgotten is Pat Langworthy, who instructed Tim in almost all of his flight courses. Tim was also the recipient of the Herm Linder Scholarship while a student in 2005.
Traditions can help to establish the fabric of a family and be carried on for generations. Fortunately for the Michigan aviation industry, Tom’s tradition transcended the automotive world and “landed” in the field of aviation. His journey brought him to WMU and Kalamazoo where he would sink his roots. These traditions, both aviation and WMU, were passed on to his children, especially Tim. Expect the next generation to keep them going.
Growing up in the northwest section of the United States, several things are hard to ignore: the Seattle Seahawks, Starbucks Coffee, Microsoft, the birthplace of Grunge and Boeing. For Marcus Williams the influence of the aerospace giant would have a profound effect on his upbringing, leading him to the place he is today.
For as long as he can remember, Williams has always had an infatuation with aviation. Not only were planes being built in his home of Seattle, Wash., they were also present in the sky. With a fascination rivaled only by Mr. Spock, Williams looked to the sky and dreamed. According to Williams, “As a toddler, I used to always have an interest in the airport my parents would drive past each day. That airport was (and is) Renton Municipal Airport, where Boeing assembles the 737.” It is hard to imagine any child not getting excited when observing both the construction and operation of these machines.
Being born and raised in Seattle, Williams is a die-hard Seahawks fan. Much like a “Marshawn Lynch,” Williams wanted the ball to determine his own destiny. Researching and evaluating various aviation programs as a high school senior in 2001 and 2002, Williams eventually decided to “grab the reins” and head to Western Michigan University, enrolling in the College of Aviation. Entering WMU as a freshman in the fall of 2002, he chose to major in aviation flight science. However, understanding the global nature of aviation, he also opted to obtain a minor in Spanish language and culture. An open-minded approach he would revisit in a few years.
Graduating from WMU in the summer of 2006, the field was wide open for the newest WMU alumnus. Much like Marshawn running unopposed for the end zone, Williams was ready to score his first touchdown. With his diploma and all the necessary ratings, he decided to head back to the home of the Space Needle and look for gainful unemployment. However, sometimes life throws you a few roadblocks. Even when in Beast Mode, Marshawn occasionally does not see the defensive back streaking down the field after him.
Reflecting on this time of his life, Williams remembers, “I left Michigan and moved back to Seattle and attempted to find CFI work. The demand for CFIs in Seattle was meager, so I accepted a job at Galvin Flying, an FBO at Boeing Field, hoping to transfer into a CFI position at their flight school.” With the hope of earning a flight instructor position, Williams joined the employment ranks as a line tech. Unfortunately, one month turned into five with no movement. Once again taking the ball into his own hands, Williams peppered the United States with his resume. The strategy worked. In March of 2007, he took a CFI position with United Flight Systems in Houston, Texas.
While at UFS, Williams continued to chart his own course. As a flight instructor, in addition to his teaching duties, he began working on additional ratings; obtaining his CFII and MEI while employed. While working for the company, the global aspect of aviation revealed itself to him once again. Looking back, Williams recalls, “My student base was primarily students from India, which in hind sight was a huge opportunity to expand my horizons and learn a new culture.”
Life as a certified flight instructor is filled with many rewards and challenges. Like many of his contemporaries, Williams worked hard. “I worked long days, six days a week to build experience,” he said. However, “all work and no play” very rarely makes for an unemployed pilot. “In July of 2007,” Williams said, “I was hired as a FO at ExpressJet Airlines. I passed training and initial operation experience in September 2007.” However, even the greatest running backs in history occasionally miss the defensive back closing in. Soon after passing his IOE, Williams was hit by something many people missed. “Due to the weak economy and record high fuel prices,” recalled Williams, “I was furloughed for two years in October of 2008.”
Much like the proverbial football player tackled for a loss, Williams was determined to move forward. However, sometimes to move forward, you have to step back. Not deterred, Williams returned to his roots: Galvin Flying Service where he once again worked as a line service technician. In between refueling and towing aircraft around Boeing Field, Williams scoured the country for a flying job - ANY flying job. Thinking back about the situation, Williams said, “I searched – unsuccessfully – high and low for flying jobs. However, I did learn a lot of great life lessons while I was furloughed.” Like the saying goes, “all good things come to those who wait.” After an incredibly long “wait,” Williams was recalled by ExpressJet in September of 2010.
Timing is everything. The accomplishment of a successful play in football can be attributed to players executing their assignments at the right time. For Williams, his time had come. After several years with ExpressJet, Williams was hired by jetBlue in January of 2014. Stationed in JFK, and commuting from Seattle, he took on the first officer roll in an Embraer 190. However, something else took a hold of him: the need to give back, “While at jetBlue I was involved with high school summer camps in New York City, the U.S. Virgin Islands and right here at WMU. Additionally, I also volunteered as a pilot recruiter for the company.” Once again, Williams had the ball in hand and was streaking towards the end zone.
With full vision of the field, Williams saw the hole and was determined to make the cut. He was sprinting at full speed, and no one, or nothing, was going to stop him this time. As he remembers, “The opportunity to fly for my dream airline presented itself with a call from Alaska Airlines inviting me to an interview.” After successfully impressing the interview board, Williams became a pilot with Alaska Airlines in November of 2014! As Williams said, “Alaska is a great airline and I work with a group of the best pilots.” Touchdown!
When not piloting for his favorite airline, Williams enjoys all aspects of life in Seattle. He enjoys motorcycle riding, and can be found touring around on his Harley Davidson VROD. Because he believes in the power of giving back, he continues to volunteer with a variety of aviation summer camps and can often be found roaming around WMU’s College of Aviation camp.
Dave Powell, Dean
Happy New Year, although a bit late, to our aviation family and friends. I’ve got some really exciting updates to share with you and welcome any feedback or conversations you might like to have.
EXPLORATION OF IPTC IN PUNTA GORDA, FL
WMU AGAIN HOSTS MBAA AND WMBAA EDUCATION INITIATION
IMPROVEMENTS TO POWER PLANT LAB
WMU HOSTS SKILLSUSA HIGH SCHOOL AND COLLEGE STUDENTS
EXPLORATION OF IPTC IN PUNTA GORDA, FL
Western Michigan University's College of Aviation is exploring the possibility of starting an international pilot training program in Florida.
We have identified a vacant waterfront building in Punta Gorda, Fla., that once housed a private college. It's less than five miles from the Punta Gorda Airport south of Tampa on Gasparilla Sound, an arm of the Gulf of Mexico, where flying weather is typically better than that in Michigan. The site could be used for an international private pilot training program, which we ended in Battle Creek about a decade ago after the 9/11 attacks prompted airlines to scale back their funding for training.
Demand for aviation professionals has increased as the industry has forecasted growth over the next 20 years. Aviation entities who we would interface with all have an interest in discussing this further, and potential expansion in Florida could bring a financial boost to both locations amid continued funding cuts. We estimate the program would be very small, with about 40 students in the first year. Any growth beyond that would be based on the market's demand.
We have been working closely with Charlotte County officials and visited the roughly 53,000-square-foot facility that would need some improvements after being vacant for a few years. Other space in the facility includes a 250-seat auditorium, ideal space for flight simulators and plenty of room for growth. This facility leaves room for the possibility of other programs that might expand to the Punta Gorda area. We will also require a hangar at the airport to store planes and provide pre-flight briefing rooms and flight operations for us.
Charlotte officials are also interested in working to create a strong local aviation industry in the area and there have been discussions to create an agreement between WMU and nearby Florida SouthWestern State College for a bachelor's degree program in flight mechanics.
WMU AGAIN HOSTS MBAA AND WMBAA EDUCATION INITIATION
For the second year in a row, the Michigan Business Aviation Association and the West Michigan Business Aviation Association have chosen WMU’s College of Aviation to host their Education Initiative. Leadership from some of the state’s largest corporate flight departments will network with students interested in corporate aviation. This year the event will be held on March 3 in our hangar facilities and is being sponsored by Gulfstream. The initiative includes a presentation, mini-career fair for aeronautical engineering and aviation maintenance students, professional development mentoring for each discipline, and on display, a Gulfstream G650.
The purpose of this initiative is to encourage students to apply for corporate internships and scholarships, and to bridge the gap between graduation and business aviation. We are honored to have such generous corporate aviation partners in Michigan and look forward to working with them to create opportunities for our graduates in corporate aviation not ever seen before in aviation education.
IMPROVEMENTS TO POWER PLANT LAB
We are currently in the final stages of the upgrade to one of our maintenance training labs with a refurbished floor and multiple Snap-On workstations. Each station has three sections and there are multiple stations in the lab. In addition, the tool room has also been upgraded to be more efficient and a large toolbox, including aviation specific tools, has been supplied.
We believe these upgrades to our lab better reflect the quality of our program and we are looking forward to upgrading the structures lab very soon. Partners in the industry are being sought to provide financial support and equipment to aid in this upgrade.
Once the lab is complete, please plan on joining us during one of our events where the lab will be open for tours.
WMU HOSTS SKILLSUSA HIGH SCHOOL AND COLLEGE STUDENTS
The College of Aviation at Western Michigan University started a chapter of SkillsUSA in the fall of 2012. SkillsUSA is a national organization founded in 1965 as the Vocational Industrial Club of America (VICA). Its national membership totals 300,000 high school and postsecondary students and instructors. At the core of SkillsUSA are local, state and national contests in 99 different categories ranging from 3D visualization and animation to welding. The College of Aviation’s chapter of SkillsUSA participates in the Aviation Maintenance Technology competition. Each year SkillsUSA holds the National Leadership and Skills Conference where students compete for the national championship in their respective skill. In June of 2013, Andrew Kincaid won the national championship in the Aviation Maintenance Technology competition.
For the last two years the College of Aviation has held a contest in the spring to determine who will compete in the SkillsUSA national championship. In March of 2014, the contest earned the distinction of being the official SkillsUSA state championship for aviation maintenance technology. With that designation, Snap-On tools sponsored the event by donating tool sets to the top three finishers. The SkillsUSA state contest for 2015 is scheduled for March 27th and 28th at the WMU College of Aviation. This year we are opening the contest to high school students as well and are looking for volunteers. If you are interested and wish to volunteer for this event, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Seventy-five years of aviation at Western Michigan University and what the next quarter of a century will bring was celebrated Oct. 24 in Battle Creek. As Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons said in that memorable song, “Oh, what a night” and what a night it turned out to be.
Some 400 friends of the program, alumni, faculty, staff and students of the WMU College of Aviation gathered to mark the program’s diamond anniversary in a huge hangar at W.K. Kellogg Airport, home of the college since 1997.
Among the highlights of the evening was the induction of the two latest members of the WMU College of Aviation Hall of Honor. The 12th and 13th inductees were:
Hall of Honor inductee—Dr. Curtis "Doc" Swanson, WMU associate professor emeritus of aviation sciences. Swanson, who earned a master's degree from the University, retired in 1999 after nearly 32 years of service to WMU aviation.
Hall of Honor inductee—Clarence "Pappy" VanDeventer, WMU associate professor emeritus of transportation technology. VanDeventer, who is the author of an aviation textbook that was used nationally, served as a flight instructor from 1955 until his retirement in 1975.
Additionally, the evening saw the presentation of the 3rd Excellence in Diversity Award:
Receiving special awards from the Federal Aviation Administration were:
Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award - Larry Traxler, a WMU alumni, pilot and aviation enthusiast was presented this prestigious award, recognizing pilots who have “demonstrated professionalism, skill and aviation expertise by maintaining safe operations for 50 or more years.” Traxler took his first ride in 1940 at the age of 10, eventually earning his private pilot license on June 1, 1951.
Charles E. Taylor Master Mechanic Award and Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award - Robert Keller, a WMU alumni, former Army helicopter pilot, aviation maintenance technician and aviation enthusiast was presented both awards. In addition to the Wright Brothers award, Keller was awarded the Master Mechanic Award, which recognizes the lifetime accomplishments of senior mechanics. Charles Taylor served as the Wright brothers' mechanic and is credited with designing and building the engine for their first successful aircraft. To be considered for the award, an individual must have worked for a period of 50 years in an aviation maintenance career. Keller first began “wrenching” on planes in 1958, the same year he began his flight training. In 1960, he started working towards his A&P when he enrolled at WMU, earning the license in approximately 1963.
The keynote speaker was Nicole Barrette-Sabourin, a staff member of the International Civil Aviation Organization that is part of the United Nations family of entities.
Barrette-Sabourin painted a rosy picture for the future of aviation as an industry around the world, with a couple of caveats. Discussing the state of the global aviation industry, Barrette-Sabourin provided statistics highlighting the growth of the global aviation industry. However, while demand in aviation will continue to grow, supply could become a limiting factor. A lack of well-trained, professional pilots and maintenance technicians could impede the impending growth. While pilots tend to get a majority of press, a larger limiting factor will be a lack of professionally trained mechanics and technicians who will build and maintain the spectrum of aircraft needed to meet the public’s demand.
WMU Provost Dr. Tim Greene offered a brief overview of Western’s linkage to U.S. aviation, from the dawning of the program in 1939 training aeronautical mechanics to its role in preparing fighter pilots in World War II to its emergence as a global resource nurturing the aviation industry around the world.
With a current enrollment of over 750 students, the college channels students toward careers in aviation flight science, aviation maintenance technology, and aviation management and operations. To support some of those students, the College of Aviation used the opportunity to announce two new scholarships available to new and current students.
The family of the late Daniel Van Dyke, a 1990 WMU graduate of the flight science program, founded the Daniel L. Van Dyke scholarship. Two $25,000 scholarships will be granted annually to students majoring in flight science and demonstrate financial need.
In recognition of the partnership the College of Aviation shares with Duncan Aviation, the new Duncan Aviation Inc. Aviation Maintenance Scholarship was also acknowledged. This $2,500 scholarship will be awarded to a resident of Southwest Michigan pursuing a degree in aviation maintenance technology each year.
Each attendee also heard remarks from Capt. Dave Powell, dean of the College of Aviation and Dace Copeland, who chaired the 75 year celebration steering committee. The guests also received a “coffee table” book, detailing the program’s history and a commemorative 75-year coin.
Paraphrasing “Doc” Swanson’s perspectives that he cited in response to his induction, everyone wants to hit a home run, to be like Chuck Yeager and be the first to crack the speed of sound. It is okay to strive for major milestones. However, those achievements are based on a foundation of what he called “minor” accomplishments that can be chalked up every day. Little things do mean a lot. The devil is in the details. When added together, those do equate to the headline-grabbing accomplishments that fill history books.
Western Michigan University’s aviation program fits into Swanson’s paradigm. Through its 75 year history, the program has continued to make impact after impact. While many of these accomplishments tend to be footnotes in the overall history of the institution, when added together and summed up, the obvious becomes apparent. Aviation at WMU is huge. Much like the diamond represented in this anniversary, the College of Aviation is a sparkling example of perseverance, dedication and continued pursuit of excellence. Upon reflection, the past 75 years have went by at the speed of sound. Who knows? Maybe the next 75 will go by at the speed of light.
By Greg Killeen
I graduated from the School of Aviation in 1998 and was on the national championship Sky Bronco Precision Flight Team that same year. Since graduating from WMU, I have continued to follow Bronco athletics closely, particularly football. For the last 10 years I have traveled at least once a year to an away Bronco football game, seeing them play teams such as Michigan, Nebraska, Notre Dame, West Virginia, Illinois, and Virginia Tech, just to name a few. It had been 12 years since I attended a football game in my favorite place of all, Waldo Stadium!
Several weeks ago I received an email from the College of Aviation inviting all previous national championship team members to return to Kalamazoo for the homecoming football game and be recognized on the field prior to kick-off. To say I was excited was an understatement! Not only did I have an excuse to watch Bronco Football in the friendly confines of Waldo Stadium, I would be reunited with my beloved teammates, some of whom I had not seen in over a decade.
I immediately called my wife and told her we were bringing our two girls to Kalamazoo. Normally I don't make family travel plans without consulting her, but this was a game we were not going to miss! It would be a homecoming for the both of us. My wife is a K College Alumna, and we met after graduating. We even had our wedding on each other’s campus, but had not been back since.
Since graduating, our aviation career paths have scattered my 1998 teammates across the country and globe as far away as Delaware, Virginia, and Guam. Yes, Guam. I was unsure how many would be able to come back to Kalamazoo with distance and family commitments to consider. Once our teammate from Guam confirmed he was making the 30 hour trek to WMU, several more confirmed within hours. I think we all realized what a special time this would be.
We all met on Friday night at the aviation facility in Battle Creek while attending a gala commemorating the 75th anniversary of aviation at WMU and the individuals who have gone above and beyond to help build the program to what it is today. It was a wonderful night filled with laughter reminiscing about our college years. I couldn't help think, "Holy cow, we all made it!" Sixteen years ago we were all dreaming of where aviation was going to take us. Each one of us was doing what we love; flying airplanes, military jets, commercial airliners, and business jets. This night was fantastic, but in my mind just a precursor to the main event, Bronco football Saturday!
Approximately twenty former teammates, family and friends gathered for a pregame tailgate. We did nothing but tell stories and laugh until it hurt. We eventually made our way to Waldo Stadium and through the tunnel. The excitement and energy of the Bronco fans and players gave me goose bumps. The band exited the field playing the fight song and now it was our turn. As I glanced down the line, each one of us was smiling from ear to ear while the announcer recognized our accomplishments. It was one of the proudest moments of my life being recognized alongside the other Sky Broncos for doing something we love.
The videos below are two different versions of the onfield recognition. Enjoy!
After some high fives, winks and nods, we stepped back and watched the Broncos enter the field in unison with the fight song and firing of the cannon. As we exited through the tunnel, the refs and captains of each team were at midfield for the coin toss. The ref was explaining the rules over his mic and I heard him say "the W is heads and the airplane is tails. The away team calls it". I reached in my pocket and pulled out a coin. It was the very same coin we were all given the night before at the gala commemorating 75 years of aviation at WMU. That coin will be on permanent display at my house. We all returned to our seats and enjoyed celebrating another Bronco victory by this exciting and talented team. It was a day I’ll never forget and above all, a great day to be a Bronco!
Want to learn more about Western Michigan University's Sky Broncos? Please click on the links below!
Western Michigan Univesity's College of Aviation is proud to announce the winner of the 2014 Excellence in Diversity award - Captain Albert Glenn. The award recognizes individuals or organizations who have demonstrated a significant impact on helping to increase diversity in the field of aviation.
Captain Albert Glenn currently serves as the Chair of the Board of Directors for the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals and is a captain with FedEx Express. Captain Glenn’s tie to the WMU College of Aviation is his service as an active member of the WMU College of Aviation Advisory Board and our partnership with the Aviation Consortium. The Aviation Consortium is a partnership among OBAP, WMU and other Historically Black Colleges and Universities who wish to promote efforts that increase the number of underrepresented minority individuals in aviation-related careers in the United States. Captain Glenn, through OBAP and the WMU COA, has also focused on addressing recruiting and retention issues for minority students currently seeking degrees in the field of aerospace. Members of the Aviation Consortium have begun to address some of the issues surrounding financial barriers and are in discussions about the potential benefits of sharing resources.
Captain Glenn also represents WMU's College of Aviation in the industry and has mentored graduates of WMU's program who have begun their aviation careers at FedEx. Of significant note, through Captain Glenn’s efforts and participation through his various roles, the College of Aviation was able to secure a $1M donation from FedEx and OBAP: a fully-operational Boeing 727. This donation has allowed the college to put a spotlight on diversity recruitment among youth in the region by utilizing the aircraft for special programs. Captain Glenn works tirelessly for the betterment of the aviation industry, OBAP, and WMU’s College of Aviation.
Captain Glenn is currently a pilot with FedEx Express. In addition, he has served as Chairman of the Board of Directors for the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals and Managing Director of Global Flight Operations for FedEx Express Corporation.
His career at FedEx spans over 36 years and numerous management positions. Captain Glenn has over 12,000 flight hours. He began his flying career as an instrument and multi-engine flight instructor, 135-charter pilot, and worked in aircraft sales. Most recently Captain Glenn completed his training as a 777 Captain.
Captain Glenn is the former Associate Vice President for the Academy of Model Aeronautics and is on the Board of the Professional Aviation Board of Certification and the Aviation Advisory Board at Western Michigan University. He was also the 2011 USA F3A Aerobatic team manager.
As a member of the Tuskegee Airmen and advisor to OBAP, Glenn works with their ACE Academy, Solo Flight Academy, and Aerospace Professionals in School programs and with the Wooddale High School's aviation program. He holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Memphis and is a member of Grace United Methodist Church.
Albert and his wife Janice are the proud parents of three sons, including an MD11 first officer for FedEx. Captain Glenn has devoted most of his life to training youth who have the desire to be part of the aerospace industry.
Marty Coaker grew up in Rockford, MI. Aviation was in his blood and he wanted to transcend the confines of gravity. According to Coaker, “My parents say that it’s (aviation) always been something that I wanted. As long as I can remember, flying has been my goal.”
In 1997, Coaker changed his battle cry from “Go Rams” to “Go Broncos!” Graduating from Rockford High School, Coaker enrolled at Western Michigan University, taking his aviation dreams to the next level. Studying aviation while at WMU, Coaker took advantage of a multitude of opportunities to help him accomplish his goal of becoming a professional aviator. “I was fortunate to be chosen to intern for Mesaba Airlines in Detroit,” stated Coaker. “Our office was located in the Chief Pilot’s office and our duties were literally anything the Chief Pilot or operation needed. We were given cockpit jumpseat privileges as well as travel benefits. It was an incredible time and experience.”
While at Western Michigan University, Coaker also took advantage of the opportunity to be part of the University’s precision flight team: the Sky Broncos. “Much of my time in college was devoted to the Precision Flight Team,” said Coaker. Three of the five years Coaker spent at Western Michigan University were spent with the Sky Broncos. As Coaker states, “This was time well spent. I was a three year member and one year captain on the Sky Broncos Precision Flight Team. Our team won the National Championship in 2002. I firmly believe that my start, and hopefully finish, in aviation was due to the National Intercollegiate Flying Association and our team. The contacts, networking and friends that have come from it cannot be replaced.”
In addition to the incredible networking opportunities, NIFA provided Coaker and the other Sky Bronco members some of their fondest memories at the College of Aviation and Western Michigan University. Recalled Coaker, “To this day, I consider winning a national championship at the collegiate level and being part of a national championship team as one of my proudest moments. My father snapped a picture of that moment, and it still hangs above my desk.” Not only was this a proud moment for Coaker and the 2002 Sky Broncos, it was also an honored moment for Western Michigan University. When the 2002 team won the national championship, this upped the number of NIFA National Championships won by WMU to five, making it another “Great day to be a Bronco!” moment. For Coaker, “Standing next to 20 friends and teammates in Ohio when the National Championship was ours,” was one of his greatest memories. Winning “was, and is always a team effort, and that’s something to be proud of,” remembered Coaker.
Coaker’s experience beyond the classroom was instrumental in assisting him during his aviation journey. Paralleling his extracurricular activities was his time spent in the academic world. “Attending a collegiate leader in aviation gives a student and future professional pilot a huge advantage in the real world. I found that to be true for me, and I believe others have as well,” stated Coaker. “I was always pushed in positive directions by people like Tom Grossman, Ryan Seiler and Beth Seiler,” he recalled. “We had a great group of students and instructors while I was at WMU. I think we pushed each other. Now we find ourselves in all areas of aviation, and I think that is a testament to the education and instructors at WMU.”
Graduating from Western Michigan University in 2002, Coaker set off on a new journey: full time aviation employment. As many understand in the aviation world, this transition between graduation and “the job” is often challenging. Coaker’s experience was not atypical. According to Coaker, “The networking and friends that the team gave me were invaluable and helped to land my first job outside of WMU, and helped make my transition to Republic Airlines.” The path Coaker took demonstrated perseverance and determination, which is often a characteristic of successful individuals in the aviation world.
Currently, Coaker is a Captain for Republic Airlines, flying out of Chicago, O’Hare while also serving as a Flight Operations Quality Assurance Gatekeeper in Indianapolis, IN. As Coaker recalls, his career pathway included a few stops and layovers, “In college I was a flight operations intern for Mesaba Airlines in Detroit. I moved on to become a CFII at WMU, while working as an on demand charter pilot at DET all while working ramp service for American Eagle Airlines at AZO. I had an amazing opportunity to become a corporate pilot prior to graduating. Seizing that opportunity, I grew and learned with that company prior to moving on to Republic about ten years ago. During my time at Republic, I’ve had the privilege of helping write jumpseat protocol, write policies and procedures based on FOQA data to promote safe practices and procedures across our airline and I also deliver new airplanes from the Embraer factory in Brazil.” All while flying the line.
Coaker’s journey is far from over; in fact, it is only beginning. As the old saying goes, enjoy what you do and you will never work a day in your life. Working in aviation, Coaker sees a lot to like, “There is a daily challenge to flying that I enjoy. Taking care of guests, flight planning, weather challenges and making it all come together for safe flying” are what makes his career choice enjoyable. “I see one or maybe two more steps in my career, but in one form or another, I’ll always fly.”
The importance of the Sky Broncos and NIFA had a profound impact on Coaker’s life. As a result, his journey now includes an altruistic agenda. “I currently am the Assistant Coach for the Sky Broncos. I have the privilege of being able to teach in the classroom, the simulators and the flight team airplanes. It’s a real honor to be able to help shape the team for the goals that the coaching staff has for the future,” stated Coaker. “Having alumni involvement at the university level is so important to student growth. Not only do students get to learn about the industry of their choice, but they have people that they can rely on for real world advice and mentoring. We strive for as much involvement as possible with our team, and I think that the College of Aviation has done a great job at getting alumni to be engaged.”