Young Eagles Program Changes Lives

Photo by Trevor Griffis

By Abigail Oleniczak

The EAA Young Eagles program has changed Jodie Gawthrop’s life. And she couldn’t be happier about that.

Jodie, of Noblesville, Indiana, had an interest in aviation at age 16 but was not sure where to start. After looking for scholarships, she stumbled across a flight training scholarship from EAA.

She completed her application, and soon after heard back that she had won. Not only were her flight education costs covered, but she was also the 2 millionth Young Eagle. This meant she had the privilege of taking a Young Eagles flight with actor Harrison Ford in his de Havilland Beaver airplane at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2016.

“Harrison Ford was the most down-to-earth person,” Jodie said. “He really made my experience incredible; he was remarkably genuine.” She said that experience helped her to see that aviation draws people together.

This experience gave her an initial taste of aviation. At 13, she joined the Civil Air Patrol squadron at DuPage Airport in St. Charles, Illinois. At 16, shortly after her flight with Harrison Ford, she started her training, also at DuPage Airport. At 18, now living in Indianapolis, she passed her checkride and became a private pilot.

Jodie earned her associate degree in A&P at Vincennes University, then transferred to Purdue University, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in aeronautical technology.

“Getting my pilot certificate is ultimately why I now have my A&P certificate. I want to understand and know how and why things happen the way they do in my aircraft,” Jodie said. At 22, she is working on her instrument rating and is a mechanic on business jets. She flies and maintains an Aeronca Champ. A personal flying goal she has is to constantly push to be a stronger and safer pilot, she said.

Jodie said CAP helped her get started in aviation, and she is grateful to still be in touch with her mentors. Another large influence in her life was EAA Chapter 67 in Noblesville, where she enjoys volunteering for Young Eagles rallies and pancake breakfasts to encourage more youths to feel the same excitement she did.

She is occasionally involved in the Warbirds community, which also taught her a lot about mechanics.

“It’s like a village and community of pilots always building each other up,” she said.

Jodie has noticed a positive shift and growing number of female, minority, and younger pilots.

 “EAA programs, resources, and Young Eagles flights are amazing resources,” she said. “The people in chapters are seasoned accomplished aviators that welcome people interested in aviation with open arms into the community.”

She looks forward to one day being able to fly Young Eagles and spread her love and passion to the future of aviation.

Jodie’s advice to other youths is to look for EAA resources. “There are more than you realize,” she said. “For example, with just one Young Eagles flight, you are given free ground school.” And of course, kids under 18 enjoy free admission at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh.

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