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Thu, Aug 04, 2005

FAA One: Clear For Takeoff

Administrator Boards SR-22 For A Young Eagles Flight

by Aero-News Senior Correspondent Kevin R.C. O'Brien

"What's your callsign going to be?" I asked Jamail. He started laughing; it was a decent, honest laugh, a laugh of purest glee that bubbled up from deep inside him. "FAA One, can you believe that? Me, FAA One." He was tickled to think that the Administrator's personal callsign was going to attach to his little four-seat airplane.

The Administrator of the FAA, Marion Blakey, was going to show her commitment to general aviation by riding in a modern GA airplane -- a Cirrus SR22-G2. She's not a pilot, and doesn't fly in four-seaters much, but she tries to show her support for all kinds of aviation and has even flown in light sport aircraft as well as GA machines. Her pilot would be a man who spans the FAA and GA worlds, Jamail Larkins, whose business card reads: Ambassador for Aviation and Space Education, FAA.

But the major purpose of the flight was something much more fitting, given the venue, Wittman Field at Oshkosh. It was to introduce a young person to the sights, sounds and sensations of flight. It was a Young Eagles flight.

Accordingly, Madam Administrator took a seat in the back of the plane and let Jamail strap the Young Eagle, Sabrina Pasterski, in the front. Sabrina had watched in fascination as Jamail performed his walk-around, explaining each step as he went. If anyone was ever born to be a teacher or instructor, Jamail's the guy.

He's a small man, and while he's young (early twenties) and not physically large, he's full of energy and he's lived, breathed, practiced and preached flying for nine years. Do the math yourself --he was hooked as a kid, and his enthusiasm is infectious today. Assigned to getting young people fired up about flying, Jamail is a square peg in a square hole.

Of course, the back seat to which Marion Blakey graciously consigned herself wasn't exactly purgatory, because the plane in question was a brand new Cirrus SR22-G2. All seats in that ship are pretty comfortable (don't take my word for it: try it for yourself).

Alan Klapmeier, CEO of Cirrus Design, was there to see the flight off, along with other friends of the pilot and passengers. One of the most interesting things that happened, though, was a mass arrival of kids clothed in the bright T-shirts of two Chicago-area Aviation Career Education (ACE) camps. These camps  use aviation as a vehicle for education and are sponsored by the FAA, and employee groups and industry -- we hope to report on them in depth later.

Both of the ladies -- one going on her first ride in an airplane, and one who had authority over every airplane in the USA -- gave a thumbs up, and were looking forward to the flight....

...which wound up delayed. Through a scheduling cross-up, the flight was supposed to take place at 2:45 when the warbirds were clear of the taxiway. But the warbirds had yet to launch. From where we stood on the ramp, it looked like trouble; but actually, the delay was small.

"We were running a little bit later than our original departure time, Jamail said after completing the flight, but it wasn't as bad as I had thought. "After I completed my run-up, we only held about two-three minutes," and then were off.

"It was an awesome flight!" Jamail told us the next day. "I'm really appreciative that the Administrator took the time out of her schedule, to learn more about aviation youth programs. And to see first hand, the impact that aviation can have on youth. She's been a strong supporter of Aviation Education Programs," he said.

How involved is the FAA in youth education? "The FAA is currently sponsoring or co-sponsoring over 500 events that reach over 200,000 students annually," -- including, actually, the ACE camp kids we'd met while waiting for Ms. Blakey.

Shelia Bauer, the FAA's National Aviation Education Program Manager, praised Jamail Larkins for doing an "awesome job" in giving Sabrina a positive flight experience. "I got to spend some time with Sabrina and her Dad after your flight," Bauer wrote to Larkins in a message she shared with Aero-News. "She was in heaven - both literally and figuratively."

One characteristic of Jamail Larkins is that he always tries to shift the spotlight off himself and onto others deserving credit. After the flight, he called attention to the often-unsung professionalism of the EAA's AirVenture airshow airbosses. They're good guys in a tough job, who have to be right every time, and this year, they were.

FMI: www.faa.gov, www.youngeagles.org, www.jamaillarkins.com, www.airventure.org

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