When AOPA looked in on Zachary Huffman of Muncie, Indiana, recently, we wanted to know how things were going for the 2015 recipient of the AOPA Foundation’s Richard Santori Memorial Scholarship. Last we had heard, he was working on his private pilot certificate while studying journalism and management at Ball State College, his sights set on a media career.
It took a while to connect, but the news he had to share was worth the wait.
Next it was off to Central Michigan University, where while earning a Master of Arts in Media Management degree, he also acquired drone-flying credentials, taught an undergrad news production course as a graduate assistant, and picked up credentials as a state-registered airport administrator.
Huffman also was part of a carefully planned marriage proposal for his close friends that involved him flying them to Mackinac Island, the Lake Huron vacation spot, in a Cessna 172. In June, he attended their wedding.
Which brings us to the present moment, and an answer to the question: Which field did Huffman choose for his career: aviation, business, or communications?
The answer is all three.
“I wouldn't be where I am today if it weren't for your scholarship,” he said in a note to the AOPA Foundation.
Anyone who has dreamed of combining their avocation and vocation “as my two eyes make one in sight,” as the poet Robert Frost wrote, should take cues from Huffman, whose irons in the fires of aviation, business, and communications have made a fine A-B-C for how to live more than one dream.
It starts by putting yourself in opportunity’s path, where good things happen.
An assignment to prepare a sales presentation for a grad-school class took him to Michigan’s Mount Pleasant Municipal Airport. The experience resulted in an offer of part-time employment.
Mount Pleasant Municipal is a general aviation airport with a paved 5,000-foot runway with RNAV approaches, a smaller turf runway, and about two dozen based aircraft.
It’s a pretty interesting place to work, according to Huffman. There’s a casino nearby that brings interesting aircraft and personalities to the field, and that has produced some memorable moments for him including going aboard G–4 and Challenger jets and a Cirrus single, as well as “getting chicken sandwiches for Chris Rock.”
As a media-savvy airport rep, Huffman has given public airport tours, worked with Experimental Aircraft Association volunteers to give introductory flights under the Young Eagles program, and joined in to tackle maintenance tasks.
“We're currently in the process of completing a tree-abatement project for pilots’ safety, adding PAPI's to Runway 9, and replacing taxiway lights,” he said.
A media management entrepreneurship class gave Huffman a chance to tackle an assignment to develop a business idea to help a media-industry player. He seized on an opportunity he knew existed to meet a need to train news media personnel in the rapidly expanding commercial use of drones.
With professorial encouragement, his project team entered the drone program in a competition, reaching the final cut of the original 280 entries. “It reaffirmed what we are doing has traction in the industry, and we need to keep doing it,” he said in a phone interview.
A big break came when entering a new venture competition on campus. After going through three rounds of pitching—"like Shark Tank,” he said—Huffman won the project a generous startup-fund award and provided a giant leap toward making the enterprise a “one stop shop” for news media who are bringing drones into their operations to produce superior news coverage.
These days the busy graduate/airport official/entrepreneur gets to fly about once a month, and still gets a new pilot’s pleasure out of giving a campus overflight from 3,000 feet to a professor or a friend.
“I’ve been able to do that, and that’s the most rewarding part of it,” he said.
AOPA Flight Training Scholarships are made possible by generous charitable contributions to the AOPA Foundation. The program launched in 2011 and focuses on facilitating a positive flight training experience that will encourage student pilots to achieve their goals. By helping to produce new pilots, the scholarship program also strives to ensure GA’s future, with scholarship recipients serving as ambassadors for GA and flight training on a grassroots level.
Huffman’s scholarship, The Richard Santori Memorial Flight Training Scholarship, was created by Dr. Gina Santori in memory of her late husband. When asked about her inspiration for funding flight training scholarships, she said, “I created the Richard Santori Memorial scholarship to honor my late husband who was an Air Force reserve pilot and loved flying his Bonanza. I want to encourage and support young people to pursue recreational aviation as well as aviation careers. A life lived helping others is rewarding and the joy felt when the scholarship recipients earn their private pilot certificate is worth it all!”