Safety Publications/Articles

Professionally Speaking

Lt. Col. Bill Powley

Helping teens take flight

How can you describe retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Bill Powley and his contributions to aviation? In the first place, don't let that "retired" word fool you. The man is anything but retired. Powley is a Vietnam veteran fighter pilot with experience in F-4, A-7, and F-16 jets, and he looks the part. He wears his uniform; he is whipcord slim, and ramrod straight. I first met him at a Kiwanis meeting, and was immediately impressed. He has every right to brag for hours about his experiences, but he doesn't. He talks about his current passion, which is introducing teenagers to flight.

When he retired from the military, Powley began teaching Air Force Junior ROTC classes at Unicoi County High School in a tiny town in east Tennessee. That might seem an odd place for an aviation program, since the county has no airport at all, but Powley went to work building a remarkable aviation success story. Today he teaches at Sullivan High School South in Kingsport, Tennessee.

He founded FLIGHT Foundation (an acronym for Flight Lessons Instructional Grants Helping Teens) with partner Fain Bennett. The foundation provides grants and other benefits to help teens learn to fly.

So, where does the money come from? Well, Powley is passionate about teens and aviation, and passionate about inviting others to participate. The list of donors he has developed for the teens over the years sounds like a who's who of aviation and the community. But the big story is the teens Powley has introduced to aviation. Every solo student gets a scholarship. Powley's teens include two going to the Air Force Academy and one to West Point. Every now and then he brings some of "his" kids to Kiwanis. They all dress well, stand straight, call you "sir", and in general make you proud to know that teens like that are coming along. Powley is obviously proud of these products of his second career.

Many CFIs lament that potential students can't afford to fly. Powley went out and found the money to help, and he spends it frugally. He teaches in rental aircraft, and the local FBOs appreciate his business.

And he does love kids and aviation. He spends a lot of time with the teens, and they appreciate it. Everybody seems to appreciate Powley, and he does get the word around. You can't meet him without finding out what he does. He talks a lot about his kids, and everybody wants to help him. Afterwards he thanks them exuberantly.

He asked that I put in a special kind word for his wife, Phillis, who he says has been his biggest help along the way, as well as his sons Bob and Bill and stepson Cord.

I wish we had a few more like Colonel Powley in aviation. You can reach him at [email protected].

Ralph Hood, an aviation speaker and writer, has been flying since 1971 and has more than 3,000 hours of flight time. He is a multiengine commercial pilot with an instrument rating. Visit his Web site.

By Ralph Hood

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