A Marine for 26 years–a casualty-assistance officer, to be precise, which means he brought bad news to many a family–Jack Howell has spent the better part of the last 15 years soaring above gravity’s more depressing forces. Quite literally.
His Teens-in-Flight organization, started in Jacksonville in 1994 and now established at the Flagler County Airport, is a non-profit flight school for teens who generally had difficult times in their lives. Every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon, about a dozen students take flight lessons and prepare for the ultimate goal: their pilot license. Two students in the current crop are candidates for private pilot licenses. Flight times are paid for through donations.
This morning (April 22), Howell invited School Superintendent Janet Valentine for an hour’s flight, to take in her domain, as Howell put it, and in recognition of Valentine’s support of the program.
“We’re going to do a leisurely flight,” Howell said moments before take-off. “The wind is perfect. I don’t anticipate any turbulence.” They took off a little after 10:30 in Howell’s Cessna 150, cruising at 1200 feet, at about 90 miles per hour. The flight plan: Out to Flagler Beach, then up to St. Augustine, looping around the lighthouse there, then across the western part of Flagler County, back to Flagler Beach and to the airport. The whole thing was going to burn no more than six gallons of fuel. Other than the guided tour, Howell was ready to play his satellite radio in the skies–country or oldies.
Valentine looked calm and relaxed before the flight. She’s been in a small plane just once before, “with my brother in law who’s a pilot in North Carolina. Other than that, I’ve never gone up in a small plane because I’m claustrophobic and have a fear of heights. As long as we don’t do any tricks, I’m fine.”
It wasn’t reassuring to hear Howell, whose humor has the cutting edge of a propeller, describe his operation as One-Flight Airline (“You take one flight, you never return”).
They did, however, return to earth.