Sky High

November 2020 View more

Leonardo da Vinci never said the famous quote attributed to him: “Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.” But had he lived 500 years later, his obsession with birds and flying make it plausible that he would speak about the lure of aviation.

Wayne Brazinski knows the obsession well, and he feels compelled to share flying experiences with others. In fact, he’s made it his personal mission to ensure area youth are able to experience the joys of flying and continue to return to the skies as much as possible.

Brazinski is president of the Experimental Aircraft Association Chapter 461 at Clow International Airport in Bolingbrook. In addition to being part owner of the flying school and maintenance shop, Brazinski works with the Young Eagles program, which gives kids ages 8 to 17 the chance to fly for free in a general aviation airplane. Prior to COVID-19, the program offered flights for 50 to 100 kids each month. Although that number is lower now due to current restrictions, kids can still experience flight by appointment on a weekly basis.

While some enjoy the one-time experience, others become inspired. “About one to one and a half percent of the kids we fly are struck by the spark. They knew it would be cool but had no idea they would be so taken with it,” he explains. Up until three years ago, a single ride was all the program offered. But seeing how some kids wanted more, Brazinski launched the Future Aviators of America.

Through the FAA club, teens ages 12 to 18 can indulge their passion for aviation by participating in STEM-type activities, including Lego projects, rebuilding a 1929 Pietenpol, building pedal planes, and—of course—flying. “We create little aviators and hope some become big aviators one day,” he explains. Brazinski is especially cognizant of the fact that only six percent of professional pilots are female. “One of my initiatives is to promote females in aviation. Most young ladies in high school who are interested in flying don’t have friends with the same interests. They don’t fit into one particular group. This club gives them a place to hang out with like-minded people.”
One young woman has been particularly affected by the program. Becca (not her real name) took a Young Eagles flight when she was 10 years old. Her grandparents brought her as a diversion from the domestic violence she experienced at home. That flight changed her life.

About one to one and a half percent of the kids we fly are struck by the spark. They knew it would be cool but had no idea they would be so taken with it.”

—Wayne Brazinski

Finding the support and encouragement she needed, Becca gained confidence in herself and her abilities. “Since coming to that Young Eagles event, Becca went from failing to graduating middle school with honors. She went from being a shy, almost invisible young lady to a high-achieving leader and member of the student council,” he explains. After being mentored by Brazinski for five years, she now works at the airport and runs the FAA club. She even mentors another teen who faced similar abuse. Now 15, Becca recently was awarded a Give Something Back Scholarship, giving her a full ride to college.

Another participant who caught the aviation bug went on to earn his master’s degree in aerospace, aeronautics, and astronautical engineering. He now works in propulsion engineering at SpaceX.

In addition to Young Eagles, the EAA hosts a number of events at Clow airport designed to make flying accessible to all. “Most people don’t realize they could drive to Bolingbrook airport and find someone to engage their kid,” Brazinski notes. “We are trying to help people understand that the airport is more than a playground for the privileged. Anybody can afford to learn to fly. If you have an interest, you can do it.” More information about programs and events can be found at

Photo by Robbie Culver