Countless numbers of young children have fallen in love with the idea of becoming a pilot. Imagine a child holding a toy plane in their hands while making a “whoosh” sound as they move the tiny aircraft through the air.
Steven Hudson of Rome, Ga., is a 16-year-old student at Rome High School and a cadet in the school’s Air Force ROTC. He is taking his dream of flight and turning it into a reality. "Ever since I had the opportunity to sit in the captain's seat of an L-1011 when I was four years old I’ve been drawn to flying,” he said.
If you were in the Rome Georgia area and looked skyward last Wednesday there’s a good chance that you may have seen Steven completing his first solo flight as a student pilot in a Cessna C-172. With the completion of his solo flight Steven Hudson is one step closer to finishing a goal that he set after taking in a day with the locally based Tiger Flight Foundation at the age of 11.
According to Steven’s mother, Janice Hudson-Huff, the Tiger Flight visit was a defining moment in Steven’s life after moving from Canada to the Rome area. “When we moved here I wanted to find something like the aviation camps he would attend in Canada,” Ms. Huff said. “While watching the local PBS TV station I saw an interview with some of the guys from Tiger Flight at the Rome airport. I called the airport and they put me in touch with Tom Calvanelli of Tiger Flight and he invited us out for one of their Second Saturday events.”
The Tiger Flight Foundation, based at Rome's Richard B. Russell airport, is a non-profit flight-based motivational program for kids that is designed to encourage goal setting and working towards those goals. The foundation also hosts flying events on the second Saturday of every month, offers school tours and even has a paperback book based on the program titled Jake and the Tiger Flight.
They also have a growing hanger-based military museum and planes painted in orange and blue tiger strips. It was enough to convince Steven that he wanted to do more than dream about being a pilot. After attending the program and going for a ride in one of the Tiger Flight planes Steven set his goal… and he has worked towards it.
“Tiger Flight is a place where anyone can set a goal and work towards that goal,” Steven Hudson said. “I started volunteering and became a member when I was 11 years old and helping out around the hanger and with events over the years has really helped the process of earning my wings,” he said. “The motivational speech inspires anyone to earn their wings on any goal they set. The years I spent volunteering at Tiger Flight pushed my desire to pursue aviation even further."
According to Steven’s mom, the visit to Tiger Flight and her son’s efforts to become a pilot have actually become something that the family enjoys together. “We came out for one of their flying events and Steven became a ‘hangar kid’ like Jake in the Tiger Flight young reader book Jake and the Tiger Flight,” Ms. Huff said. “We came, we saw, we volunteer and we’ve never left!”
Steven see’s his goal of becoming a pilot as something that has grown as he has matured. Like every child dreaming of becoming a pilot the “whoosh” sound while holding a toy plane is motivation enough. As a 16-year-old young man in today’s world becoming a pilot and completing a solo flight combines that childhood thrill with something else. "It's a completely different world up there, you see it from a new perspective,” he said. “You feel… free… and separated from the commotion of the world below."
Kent Whitaker is a author, culinary writer and sports writer living in Chattanooga. You can follow him on twitter @thekentwhitaker .