By Jerad Lewark
The year was 2004, on a warm sunny day in Columbus, Georgia. I was 4 years old when I first remember hearing the roar of jet engines overhead. I could not run to the door fast enough just to catch a glimpse of a beautiful machine that could overcome gravity and use the very air I was breathing as a means of lift. My journey to slipping the surly bonds of earth began at this moment. Little did I know that this urge to fly would define my life and become one of the characteristics that has developed me into the person that I am today.
During the early stages of my life, I began to read books about airplanes and watch hours of videos that illustrated the beauty of flight. I can remember sitting for hours in my playground gazing into the blue skies at the contrails left by airliners. I felt that having the ability to fly an aircraft was a super power. I knew at this point that becoming a pilot was my life’s ambition.
The first step of my journey to becoming a pilot in the world’s greatest air force began in 2011 at the Thunder in the Valley Airshow. During the air show, my dad walked with me to the EAA Chapter 677 booth where I met several volunteers and pilots who were dedicated to sharing the magic of flight to the next generation of potential aviators. After talking to the volunteers, I learned that the local chapter provided incentive rides on the last Saturday of each month to boys and girls from the ages of 8-17. I attended my first Young Eagles rally in the fall of 2011.
I can remember my first flight to this day. After my first flight, I knew that I wanted to be involved with this program to the fullest extent possible. During the following months, I decided to become a member and volunteer with the organization so that I could learn as much about aviation that was feasible for a young person like myself. After a year of volunteering, the EAA chapter offered me the distinct opportunity to attend the EAA Air Academy, located in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.
During my time at the Air Academy I was surrounded by aviators from all careers including civilian, private, and military. During one of the seminars, a husband and wife shared their journey to becoming F-15 pilots. The story that they shared about a life of service inspired me to become a pilot in the United States Air Force. The part of the story that impacted me the most was that their actions directly supported ground forces that were deployed within the region. At this moment in my journey, I knew that I wanted to dedicate my life to becoming a pilot in the military that could save the lives of friendly forces on the ground. I realized that being a pilot for me did not mean just flying an airplane, but also allowing myself to develop into a person willing to develop a skill set that could have a direct impact on friendly forces involved in the fight.
After my trip to the EAA Air Academy, I continued to volunteer with the Young Eagles program so that I could get all of the exposure that I could to the world of aviation. During this time, I began to take my time at EAA more seriously by getting involved with flight instructors, and different ground courses so that I could gain knowledge to use for my private pilot certificate. EAA Chapter 677 generously sponsored me again to attend the senior version of the EAA Air Academy. After this trip, I knew that being a military pilot was going to be my main goal in life.
Once I returned home, I asked around to find a local flight instructor that could share the gift of flying an aircraft with me. When I turned 16, I began my official training with David Hall. David was a retired police officer, as well as the chief helicopter pilot for the department. David led me through my journey of attaining my private pilots certificate. Once I had my certificate, I knew it was my time to give back to younger people who were also aspiring aviators. I took several Young Eagles on their incentive rides, as well as an Eagle flight to help adults discover the magic of flight.
During my junior and senior years of high school, I began the grueling application process for the United States Air Force Academy. This process included a long application, medical and fitness testing, recommendation letters, as well as seeking a nomination from my local representative, Congressman Sanford Bishop. During the summer after my senior year I received an appointment to USAFA. This appointment allowed me to attend the school of my dreams. This appointment would give me the chance to receive a commission in the United States Air Force as a second lieutenant and graduate with a pilot slot.
I am now a senior at the USAFA, and I have been given my AFSC of pilot. I will graduate on June 1. The journey has been filled with years of hard work and dedication, but none of this would have been possible without the help of my family, friends, mentors, and EAA Chapter 677. All of the milestones that I completed along the way have laid the foundation for me to complete my dream of serving as a military pilot.
Now that I look back on my journey to this point in my life, I can say without a doubt that EAA has been one of the most important organizations in guiding me along the path of becoming a military pilot. The journey to joining the long blue line of graduates who came before me at the United States Air Force Academy has been long and tough, but I have persevered and I am now closer than I have ever been to achieving my childhood dream of joining the Air Force and becoming a pilot. The dream of flight is something only a handful of people taste and I am grateful that I can have to opportunity to serve beside some of the most amazing people this country has to offer.
I am ready for the next step in my journey and I look forward to see where the world of aviation takes me. I have tasted flight, and I will always walk the earth with my eyes pointed to the sky. I will always dream of being in the sky; I will continue on my journey so that I can return to the sky and become a pilot that can potentially save the lives of friendly forces overseas.
Jerad’s involvement with EAA Chapter 677, the Young Eagles program, and the EAA Air Academy was previously featured on EAA’s Hangar Flying blog in 2018. It’s amazing to see how far Jerad has progressed on his journey since then.