Inspire Aviation lived up to its name on September 20 when 29-year-old Army veteran Seth Spotts took off in a BT-13 Valiant from Wadsworth Municipal Airport.
Seth is dealing with advanced leukemia and uses a wheelchair, but Inspire Aviation President Mike Bowser used local connections throughout the area to make Seth’s flight happen when he learned about the situation. Inspire Aviation is a 501(c)3 nonprofit started to carry out an aviation festival in Ohio’s mission year-round.
Mike already had a connection with the Serving Area Military, Veterans, and Widows (SAM) Center through the Props and Pistons Festival that Inspire Aviation runs, and he sprang into action when they told him about Seth.
“They were trying to figure out a bucket list trip he could go on with his family,” Mike said. “He wanted to go to Arlington to visit with his family, and when they were talking with him about how to get there in airplanes he mentioned he always wanted to go on a warbird ride. That’s when they contacted me, and we got it in motion pretty quick.”
Mike downplays his work in the process, saying he merely picked a day and made a few calls, but his work coordinating with the BT-13 owner, a local tree service to bring a bucket truck to hoist Seth into the airplane, and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to provide a special seat to use made the special moment possible.
“To be able to give back and help somebody who’s going through something like that just to have one good day, it means the world to me,” Mike said. “The fact that Seth was smiling as much as he was, his wife, Veronica, said he’s not an overly emotional person, so it was good to see him smile.”
Seth wasn’t the only one involved in the flight. EAA Chapter 846 President Gary Baker, EAA Lifetime 251742, gave Veronica a ride in his RV-6 at the same time, so they could share the moment together in the air. After both airplanes landed, Gary took off again, this time to give Seth’s two kids Young Eagles flights. Then, to close the day, a local restaurant catered the event and everyone got a good meal.
But the day wasn’t over quite yet. Dane Jorgensen, EAA 378270, the owner and pilot of the BT-13, got to take another meaningful flight in his airplane that day — this time, with his wife.
“The owner of the BT-13, his name is Dane, his wife has been in a wheelchair for 25 years now,” Mike said. “They’ve had that airplane for 10 years now, and she loves flying in the planes with him. Because of her being in the wheelchair, she was never able to climb into that plane. We were able to give her a ride as well.”
Inspire Aviation is aptly named, because the group carries out initiatives like this one throughout the year. A partnership with United Way results in volunteers going into classrooms to discuss careers in aviation with students, while another with the Akron Children’s Hospital brings terminally ill children out to the Props and Pistons Festival to have a day similar to the ones Mike’s unit used to put on when he was in the Air Force.
“One of the things we did in the military was called pilot for a day, where we would bring terminally ill kids out to the base, give them a flight suit and a jacket, and give them a great experience, letting them fly the simulators and all that,” Mike said. “I kind of stole that idea from the military, and so we do that now at the festival.”
In addition, childhood cancer patients from Camp Quality are welcomed to the festival as well, where they and their siblings get into the air through Young Eagles flights. More than 50 flights were given at the latest Props and Pistons Festival, bringing the total flights given to well over 100 so far.
To learn more about Inspire Aviation and the various initiatives the group carries out, you can visit the Props and Pistons Festival’s Facebook page or FlyOhio.org.