F.L.I.G.H.T. Foundation Continues to Soar

by Taylor E. Watson

The pandemic year of 2020 posed challenges for many non-profit organizations, but for Lt. Col. Bill Powley, USAF (Ret.), Daedalian Life Member and his student aviation program, the year has proved as noteworthy as ever. F.L.I.G.H.T., or Flight Lesson Instructional Grants Helping Teens, is entering its 30th year on the wings of continued success.

Initially conceived as a recruitment tool to attract students to his Junior ROTC program, Powley first brought the aerospace education program to Unicoi County, Tennessee in 1992 while serving as the Air Force JROTC instructor at the local high school. The program eventually expanded to Sullivan County schools in 2001. Building on the initial success in local classrooms, a non-profit chartered foundation was eventually formed.

Establishing the organization as a 501c3 has helped ensure that funding to sustain the program is available. The Foundation partners closely with local airports and businesses to keep its operation going, and has received grants from NASA, the Tennessee Aeronautics Division, FedEx, and the Ray Foundation, in addition to funds from local, regional, and national donors to keep students flying. This support has helped continue to connect young people with opportunities to learn about flying and careers in aviation while also improving their leadership skills and facilitating character development.

Over the years, Col. Powley has worked with home schoolers, college students, and independent learners. F.L.I.G.H.T. Foundation provides opportunities to pursue flight orientation programs, solo, and private pilot licenses. Whether they find the oraniztaion through local schools, church groups, or other connections, participating in Foundation programs provides critical scholarships for students as well as fundamental flight instruction.

Exposure to flying proves pivotal for the futures of many students. Some have never been up in an airplane. For many, the experience sparks an interest in flying and a possible career in aviation. Even if students learn that a career in flight is not for them, Col. Powley contends that the program is about so much more than flying.

The classroom motto is “Deeds not Words”. Students are expected to arrive prepared, on time, and ready to work, with a full grasp on the requirements of the day each time they go up. This philosophy of action and accountability helps develop integrity in students in addition to valuable skills like time management, personal direction, and the ability to take correction.

Students also learn a lot about adapting through their flight lessons. This skill received extra attention as adjustments had to be made to continue training during COVID. Fortunately, the first stage of learning – ground school – is done by students at home using the program’s workbook. Recirculated air in the trainer craft reduced transmission risk to a degree, and students and instructors adapted their interaction and aircraft to follow CDC guidelines as closely as possible, including wearing masks. These precautions helped ensure the program could continue throughout the pandemic.

Col. Powley is a graduate of the Air Force Academy, fighter pilot, and Vietnam veteran. He has experience on the F-4, A-7 and F-16 aircraft and flew 347 combat missions while serving. For his work with the F.L.I.G.H.T. Foundation, Col. Powley was awarded the A. Scott Crossfield Aerospace Education Teacher of the Year and was the first recipient of the Aviation Person of the Year award by the Tennessee Aviation Hall of Fame. He has also been selected as the recipient of the Career Contributions to Aviation Award by the State of Tennessee Aeronautics Division, and was inducted into the Tennessee Aviation Hall of Fame in 2013. After multiple decades in uniform between his years on active duty and serving as an AF JROTC instructor. In his own words, “When you get to do something you love every day, you can’t beat that!”

As of December 2020, FL.I.G.H.T. Foundation has flown 11,071 passengers. Of those, there have been two hundred twelve solos, seventeen private pilots, eight USAF Academy appointments, three West Point appointments, one Naval Academy appointment, twelve MTSU pilot majors, one Purdue aviation major, two ATP Flight School students, and one Aero Sim Flight Academy student. The Foundation is entering its 30th year strong!