Young Eagle Goes From Learning to Teaching at EAA

Thomas Sieracki, EAA 1096352, had no idea how much a routine trip to Oshkosh to visit his cousins in August 2012 would change his life. Thomas was 15 years old at the time, and he really just needed something to do.

“My dad and I were bored one day down in Oshkosh, hanging out with family, and my dad asked me if I was interested in going over to the [EAA Aviation Museum] because I had never been over there,” Thomas said. “I, at this time, didn’t really have any interest in aviation. I didn’t really even know what EAA was. So I said yeah, absolutely, let’s go check it out because we’re right across the street from it.”

Thomas and his family explored the museum, and had a good time doing so. When they were getting ready to leave, a docent asked if they had made it to Pioneer Airport yet. Thomas said he and his family had no idea there was more to explore at the EAA Aviation Museum. He soon found out that there was plenty more, especially when the group ran into longtime Young Eagles pilot Fred Stadler, EAA 37882, by the grass airstrip at Pioneer.

“They walked us out, we got in the tram that brought us across the airfield, and we walked around in those couple of hangars,” Thomas said. “We were just about to leave and Fred, who flies the red GlaStar, he came up to me and asked me, ‘Have you gotten a ride in the GlaStar yet?’”

Thomas’ father asked Fred how much a flight would cost, but the experienced volunteer pilot explained that it would be a free Young Eagles flight as Thomas was under 18. An excited Thomas got permission and went for his first-ever flight.

“My dad asked me how it was, and I said that was probably the most fun I ever had,” Thomas said. “It was definitely a thrill. When we got back I said. ‘Man, this is what I want to do.’ [I had] never been in an airplane, not even a commercial airliner, never in a small airplane, this was my first flight ever, and I immediately knew that’s what I want to do.”

On that same day, Thomas had yet another impactful encounter on his way out of the EAA Aviation Museum. The family recognized someone from their church congregation who was there helping out with the EAA Air Academy. When the family found out about the academy, they were floored.

“Right away we were like no way, they have a summer camp at EAA,” Thomas said. “Of course I was like absolutely, if I can go do that, let’s go do that. The next year … I signed up for it because it looked definitely interesting to me and I’m local.”

Thomas went for the whole week and had a blast. He met some great people, participated in workshops, and got the chance to take a helicopter and Cessna Skycatcher ride in the process. As inspired young people are prone to do, Thomas continued working toward his goal of becoming a pilot after his time at the Air Academy.  

He explored some instructor options around the Green Bay and Appleton areas, but none of them seemed like the right fit for Thomas until he found a local school with an aviation program.

“We found out that Fox Valley Technical College [FVTC] had a program, so I got enrolled into that the very next year,” Thomas said. “I wasn’t wasting any time because I knew that’s what I wanted to do.”

Thomas definitely wasn’t lying when he said he wasn’t wasting time. After his Air Academy trip in 2013, it took him slightly more than two years to get his private pilot certificate. After passing his checkride on November 23, 2015, Thomas went on to get his instrument, commercial multi-engine, and commercial single-engine ratings within a year and a half, earning the last one on May 4, 2017.

The 19-year-old Thomas then got to work on his MEI, CFI, and CFII, the last of which he completed on April 2, 2018. Two days after his final checkride, Thomas was working as a CFI with FVTC. In the fall, he found he didn’t have much to do, which worked out well when EAA flight training manager Joe Norris called around looking for a last-minute instructor at the Sport Pilot Academy.

“I heard Joe was down an instructor at the academy and needed a replacement at the last minute,” Thomas said. “[I thought], if I could go back and teach some other people some things that I was introduced to, and that’s kind of how I got into it, that’d be the coolest thing ever.”

Thomas arrived at the academy just a day after hearing from Joe, and got to help spread aviation at EAA and give back after he got his first taste of it there some six years earlier. His new goal is to become a commercial pilot, and based on how quickly he got his ratings, it doesn’t seem like anything will stop Thomas from getting there.

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