Albert Whitted Airport, a hub of aviation enthusiasm and home to the vibrant EAA (Experimental Aircraft Association) Young Eagles Chapter 1602, plays a pivotal role in nurturing the next generation of aviators. At its heart is Chris Gregory, a dedicated aviation professional and the current chapter president, who found his own passion for flying ignited at this very airport.
Chris, now an accomplished Airbus A-320 captain, is deeply involved in the EAA’s Young Eagles program. This nonprofit association was established in 1953 with a mission to grow participation in aviation by promoting “The Spirit of Aviation,” through inviting the public to experience flight, nurturing interest in aviation, and supporting clear pathways to participation. The EAA’s Young Eagles program works with volunteer pilots to give children ages 8-17 their first ride in an airplane for free. Over 3,000 have learned about flying at Albert Whitted Airport through the Young Eagles program.
Chris’ love for aviation is not just about flying. It’s about sharing the magic of flight with others, especially through the Young Eagles flights. “I think almost every kid I’ve taken flying, I can tell they’re going to be a pilot one day,” Chris shares. This program is more than just a joyride; it’s an opportunity for young minds to see the world from a different perspective, possibly shaping their future in aviation. Chris adds, “We all had someone mentor us or give us a ride. Now, I’m in the position to do this for someone else and maybe help them decide that flying is what they want to do.”
Chris’s journey into the skies began unexpectedly. While playing Tee-ball as a child, his attention was captured by an airplane soaring overhead, a moment that planted the seed of his future career. Despite not initially envisioning himself as a pilot, Chris obtained his private pilot’s license in 1989. His career took flight at Tampa International Airport with Southwest Airlines and later, as a pilot for AeroPhoto at Albert Whitted Airport in 2007, where he was introduced to the close-knit community of aviators. Notably, he was recruited to tow banners using a Cessna L-19 Bird Dog, a World War II-era tailwheel airplane.
In 2017, Chris played a pivotal role in launching Flying Adventure at Albert Whitted Airport, offering rides in the 1941 Boeing Stearman, a vivid blue and yellow WWII-era Army Air Corps biplane. This aircraft holds a rich history, having served as a primary trainer for pilots during WWII. Chris emphasizes the significance of these airplanes as living, breathing pieces of aviation, American, world, and Florida history.
“To be able to take somebody for a ride– it’s never going to get old for me,” Chris said. “Even though I’ve flown this plane a million times, it’s a big deal for the person who saved up some money to go for a ride. It’s exciting for them. And it’s exciting for me to share it with people since it’s a piece of history that lives and breathes and flies.”
At Albert Whitted Airport, the personal and intimate atmosphere is ideal for businesses like Flying Adventure and for programs like Young Eagles. Chris notes, “If we didn’t have this airport, this wouldn’t work. It doesn’t work out of bigger, impersonal airports.”
Chris’s commitment to aviation and nurturing new talent is evident in his efforts with the Young Eagles, ensuring the spirit of flight continues to captivate and inspire. Through his leadership and his personal dedication to flying, Chris is not just a pilot but a mentor, playing an integral role in guiding the next generation of aviators at Albert Whitted Airport.