All dreams are possible with Flight Club 502
By Elizabeth Scinta
Photos by Kathryn Harrington
“Flying is one of those things that the people who do it love it and can’t describe why they love it,” said Roger Quinn, the UPS Director of Training and a member of the Flight Club 502 Adult Advisory Board. Being in the sky and surrounded by clouds is one of those things that all kids dream about doing. Whether it’s being able to fly like Superman, wear an astronaut suit and bounce from cloud to cloud or fly your very own airplane, we’ve all had that dream. For some, that dream has become a reality with Flight Club 502. After all, a dream is never too big to accomplish if you put your mind to it, right?
For Sara Ensor and Afton Putney, their dream of flying through the sky by themselves came true at age 18 and 17, respectively, when they received their private pilot’s license. Ensor and Putney both grew up with parents in the aviation industry. Putney has been flying with his mom, Laura Jones, a private pilot, for as long as he can remember. “She would always take my friends and me up [flying]. Before we started Flight Club in 2015, my brother, Henry, and I ran after-school tour-based aviation programs for our classmates. This experience made us realize that we too could fly and was a basis for creating Flight Club. My mom made it natural for us by always putting us in the cockpit with her and told us all dreams are possible if we are willing to work hard,” Putney explained. When Ensor and her three other sisters expressed their interest in flying to their dad, he put them in contact with his good friend Laura Jones. From there, Flight Club 502 was “accidentally” born.
“It accidentally started,” Ensor laughed. “So when my sisters and I wanted to learn how to fly we went to my dad’s instructor, and one of his best friends, Laura Jones. She got us together with her sons and we started doing ground school lessons out at Bowman Field. To raise money to start learning how to fly, we started to do summer camps and the kids at the camp decided that they really wanted to learn how to fly, so we just started growing. After our first summer, I believe that we had a little over 30 members. It kind of naturally became something that a lot of kids wanted to be a part of,” Ensor explained. Flight Club 502 is run out of a space at Bowman Field leased to them by the Louisville Regional Airport Authority. “We also saw a need for kids to be able to go to a safe place. The airport and the club offer kids not only a chance to learn how to fly but, more importantly, it’s also about giving kids a safe place to hang out and a way out of problems we teens experience. It’s very empowering to learn to fly but even more empowering to be able to share what we have learned with younger kids,” Putney explained. Since its founding in 2015, the club has grown to well over 200 members, has two flight simulators, owns four planes and leases two planes from Quinn, according to Ensor.
Two of the airplanes available for the kids to use, a Cessna 150 nicknamed “Brown Bear” and a Cessna 172 nicknamed “Big Bird,” are owned by Quinn. Quinn reached out to Jeff Daus, a fellow UPS pilot and Flight Club volunteer, and asked him if they had enough resources and Daus shared that they only had two planes. “It was obvious that the two planes they had weren’t enough and the planes were being overscheduled,” Quinn explained. Quinn offered to loan the two planes to Flight Club 502; Big Bird is a four-seater, a plane Flight Club 502 didn’t have. “The Cessna 172 opened the door for some of our bigger teenagers to be able to fly.” Since Brown Bear has been available for Flight Club 502 to use, five or six teenage girls have had the opportunity to fly solo in it; 78 kids in total have been able to fly planes by themselves! Having their own airplanes allows them to teach students how to fly at a much lower price.
Flight Club 502 is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that focuses on teaching young students about leadership and success through aviation and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education. There are four “forces of flight” that Flight Club 502 uses to base its programs on. “That is what we base everything we do on and that’s how we let members know what we are. We’re not just a place where people go to get their license. We’re a place where kids can really become well-rounded people. So the four forces of flight are STEM entrepreneurship where you learn how to make money so you can fly and learn how Flight Club can grow and maintain its members. We also encourage leadership and decision-making skills. When you’re flying, you have to make the right decision at the right moment and it’s really important to be aware and focused. It’s a skill that does take time to learn and that’s a great place to learn it. We also teach patriotism because we are surrounded by so many people who have served for our country and we want kids to remember to respect those people and also have respect for our community,” Ensor explained.
The four forces of flight are taught through ground school lessons, Business 101, junior flight club and summer camps. These are led by students such as Putney as well as mentors like Jones, Quinn and Ensor. Flight Club 502 has numerous mentors who volunteer their time and resources to make Flight Club a place for kids to learn and escape. “When I was introduced to it it was the perfect nonprofit for me because one thing that I can say about my career is that I never would’ve gotten to where I am now had people not invested in me,” Quinn explained. “It’s the pay it forward thing, right? There was a U.S. Air Captain, Jim Wilson, who inspired me to believe that I can do this. I remember near the end of his life thinking I don’t know how I’ll ever repay him and he said, ‘just do it for the next generation and that’ll be good enough.’ I have always tried to help young people get involved because aviation is expensive and cost prohibited so people think it’s out of reach, especially if they don’t have a lot of money.”
According to Jones, the mentors include approximately 70 retired UPS pilots and additional current UPS employees who are helping the kids realize that they are capable of any dream they have. “Having an organization like Flight Club 502 in Louisville is one of the most amazing things because it’s a fantastic opportunity for kids. I know so many people who have gotten jobs and internship opportunities because they’re involved in it,” said Ensor. “It puts kids on a great path for success. They’re surrounded by amazing mentors like Roger Quinn and Laura Jones and all the UPS pilots. We have one of the best and most supportive mentors around us and it enables kids to learn responsibilities, entrepreneurship and that they can do anything that they put their minds to. I think it’s one of the best things that’s ever happened to me. Flight Club 502 is my heart, I love it.”
Since co-founding the club, Ensor is now a junior at Miami University and has become a Flight Club 502’s adult advisory board member. Putney is currently co-president of the club and works with the adult members and student directors to create the curriculum for Flight Club 502. One of the things they’re working on currently is planning camps for this summer. Camp attendees will get to go on tours of UPS, see the flight tower, learn about aerodynamics and what Flight Club 502 is all about. If you’re interested in being a part of Flight Club 502 or attending a camp this summer, fill out the membership form on their website at flightclub502.org/membership and keep an eye out for more information about camps on the website. “There will be a lot of people down the road in aviation that will have been exposed and gotten into aviation through the 502 Club,” explained Quinn. “I think long-term we are making a difference with these kids.”
Flight Club 502
P.O. Box 35369
Louisville, KY 40232