OSHKOSH, Wis. – Don't tell David and Laramie Resler that America's young people aren't interested in general aviation. The Indiana couple – winners of the coveted 2012 Phillips 66® Aviation Leadership Award – is on an persistent mission to get kids and their parents interested in flying.
The Reslers have personally introduced 700 kids to the wonders of flying in their white Piper Cherokee 180 – while leading their EAA chapter efforts to send nearly 3,400 Young Eagles into the skies.
The Resler's mission to nurture a nation's love for aviation will be honored Wednesday, July 25, during the annual Young Eagles banquet at 2012 AirVenture, one of the world's largest gatherings of aviation enthusiasts.
Young Eagles Co-chairmen Jeff Skiles and Chesley Sullenberger will be on hand during the Resler's award presentation, joined by Bryan Faria, General Manager, Aviation for Phillips 66, and an audience filled with hundreds of Young Eagle volunteers and pilots.
Digging deep beyond their full-time jobs, the Reslers are the Young Eagles Coordinators for EAA Chapter 2 at Smith Field airport (KSMD) in Fort Wayne, Indiana. It's a role that many might think all-consuming. They arrange, promote, coordinate and fly for Young Eagles rallies that often draw 100 kids and 10 to 15 volunteer pilots.
And when that's not enough, David flies kids on weekends and nights from the Resler's own grass runway. If bad weather stalls a rally, it's common for the Reslers to invite kids and parents out to their farm for a flight.
"I bet I fly more on my own that I do at rallies," explains David. "We're pretty passionate about it pushing it hard to get kids involved. We're out looking for kids eight to 17 all the time. We hand their parents a card and say 'hey this is something you might want to look into.'"
A team effort
To say this couple is passionate about Young Eagles is an understatement.
"I love it," Laramie says. "It's rewarding to see the kids get so excited about flying and want to get involved in aviation. I don't want to give it up."
Their record since becoming coordinators in 2005 speaks for itself.
EAA Chapter 2 started holding Young Eagles rallies in 1992 and flew 3,150 by the time they recruited the Reslers to take over. Since then, nearly 3,400 youths have gone flying at the rallies. That's double the Young Flights in a third of the time. And Laramie says they started slow.
"Without David and Laramie, the Young Eagles program would not be what it is today for EAA Chapter 2," explains Kevin Stahl, EAA Chapter 2 President. "They deserve an award for their exceptional leadership and hard work. David and Laramie work great as a team."
Still, David credits his chapter volunteers.
"One thing I have to say, it's not all because of us, it's because of the people that volunteer to work these rallies; they help us keep this thing going," David says. "We have 40-plus ground crew volunteers and pilots to help us; that's why we are so successful, because we have the support of the chapter."
They also have the support of Phillips 66 Aviation, which offers a Young Eagles fuel rebate to volunteer pilots. "We definitely use the Phillips 66 rebate," David says. "It helps encourage more Young Eagle flights."
Since the Phillips 66 Aviation rebate program began in the mid-90s, some 4,000 pilots have used it to fly hundreds of thousands of Young Eagles.
A mission that never ceases
When they're not working at their jobs at an insurance company or running rallies, David and Laramie are always recruiting.
"The Reslers have a great willingness to share their love of aviation with anyone of any age," says Kurt Beuchel, newsletter editor for EAA Chapter 2. "I've seen David hand out Young Eagle information to complete strangers in a restaurant while waiting in line. They are always recruiting volunteers and thinking of ways to create a better experience for the children at our rallies."
They have, says Beuchel, amazing energy and enthusiasm for the program.
David does most of the flying, while Laramie handles ground-based demands like insurance, paperwork and event planning. Their work drew the attention of EAA Vintage Chapter 37 in Auburn, Indiana, which recruited the Reslers to be their Young Eagles coordinators, doubling the Resler's commitment.
Laramie manages the complex ground arrangements, while David assists, before finding time to jump in his Cherokee and fly some youths – 249 of them in 2011 alone. Inspired by the rallies, Laramie got her pilots license and has taken 25 Young Eagles flying.
Both promote Young Eagles heavily. They create fliers, banners and cards, which they hand out everywhere they go.
And their mission is paying off.
"David and Laramie had a lot to do with my decision to become a pilot and participate in the Young Eagles rallies held at Auburn and Smith Field," explains Brad Moore, EAA Chapter 2 member. "Leading by example, they encouraged me and other members to participate in the rallies at any level."
The inspired Moore has now flown 150 Young Eagles in his two-seater Champ.
A 10-year-old David flew now wants to design and build airplanes. Another grew up to be a helicopter pilot. Yet another youth helps with rally ground crews.
Laramie says their most unusual passengers were a pair of blind Amish girls.
"You know, they feel vibration, they can feel the flight," says David. "I think they had as much fun as anybody else who flies a plane. You're describing everything to them, 'we're above the trees, the houses look small, we're banking right,' whatever you can do to describe the experience."
But it may be the Reslers that are having the most fun.
"We enjoy seeing the kids' faces light up after a flight," Laramie explains. "We're hooked."
For his part, David is shooting for 1,000 flights soon. Then, he says, he'll slow down and Laramie can fly more Young Eagles.
"So I can get to 50 and earn my hat," says Laramie.