John Andrew Wallis should have his private pilot’s license before his driver’s license.
The 16-year-old Woodstock North High School senior, better known to his peers as “Jet,” estimates that he has flown more airplanes than he has driven automobiles.
“My very first flight was when I was 13, and I’ve wanted to be a pilot ever since,” Wallis said. “I was very young when I saw the movie ‘Top Gun,’ and I got hooked on it.”
Wallis is one of about 15 students who are members of Woodstock North High School’s first Experimental Aircraft Association-backed after-school group.
The club members boast of being the only high school EAA club “in the entire world.”
“We want to give young people, the next generation of pilots, the opportunity to experience [aviation],” said Dan Wallis, Jet’s father, an “addicted” airplane enthusiast who helped get the group off the ground. “There are so few mechanisms that exist that allow young people to see what aviation is like.”
Many of the group’s members took their first flight recently at Galt Airport.
“It was my first flight in a small plane,” said 18-year-old Woodstock North senior Nathan Willis. “It was a little scary and a little bumpy, but I thought it was cool because we got to fly over our school.”
But flying is not all the club is about. The club will include elements of science, mechanics and electronics. The group is a more in-depth take on the Young Eagles program at Galt Airport and “takes that relationship one step further.”
Club members will learn about weather patterns and jet streams, air pressure and wind, navigation and communication. Their first big project is one that will launch a camera helium balloon to an altitude of 90,000 feet.
A generous benefactor recently donated an airplane that students will work on, not for the students to fly, but to use more as an educational tool so they can learn about controls, mechanics and electronics of an airplane.
“It’s a small kit plane built in the mid-70s,” John Andrew Wallis said. “It’s in great shape. We just need to finish building it and paint it up and see what we can do with it.”
When Dan Wallis proposed the idea to District 200 officials, he knew the benefits an EAA club could bring the students, but he had no idea the school would be so receptive.
“Things kind of blossomed,” Dan Wallis said. “There is so much energy and so much excitement with the people involved.”
When flying the airplanes, the students are covered by EAA insurance, the cost for the flight is donated by the local EAA chapter, time is donated, and the club’s adult leadership actively is seeking other monetary sponsorship.
Dan Wallis hopes to see the group expand to sponsor a student through private pilot ground school.
“This is not just a fly-by-night group,” Dan Wallis said. “This is a group of passionate people doing what we love, and that’s teaching young people and introducing young people into the wonders of aviation.”