Meet Liam Hawkins, pilot of the Mooney Anomaly, who overcame his fear of flying and earned his wings at Albert Whitted Airport

Liam Hawkins’ 1967 Mooney M20F, based here at Albert Whitted Airport, has become a fan favorite among aviation enthusiasts with its mesmerizing paint scheme. The winged work of art– known as the Mooney Anomaly– is covered in interconnected triangles featuring 40 different colors, painted by St. Petersburg-based artist and muralist Matt Kress.

Mooney Anomaly

The transformation of the airplane itself exemplifies the transformations undergone by its pilot— a man who once harbored an all-consuming fear of flying.

Born and raised in Rhode Island, Liam was an unlikely candidate for a pilot. An innate curiosity for the world of aerospace and aviation paradoxically coexisted with a serious aversion to stepping foot on an aircraft. He wanted to see airplanes and spacecraft up close, to meet the people who built and operated them, and to learn about them, but did not want to go inside of them.

“Things out of my control or things I didn’t understand were scary to me,” he admitted, adding that even elevators were terrifying to him.

At age 10, in an effort to avoid flying on a plane, he and his mother took a train across the country to California in a trip that spanned over three days. His fear of commercial flights persisted well into adulthood. 

In his twenties, Liam worked for a software company, served in the Army National Guard, and traveled by airplane frequently, between two and six times per week. “It took probably 1,000 flights to be okay with flying on a commercial jet as a passenger. I was so nervous. Every ding, every look a flight attendant gave, every light that turned on, every bump, I was shaking. I was grabbing the armrests and willing the plane to stay in the sky magically.”

Through exposure, he became more comfortable with air travel. But that wasn’t enough. He wanted to be a pilot. 

When he moved to Florida about 10 years ago, he decided that he would face his fears and follow his dreams. After a thrilling discovery flight in a T-6 Texan at Kissimmee Warbird Adventures, he decided he would start on the path to earning his private pilot license.

“Fear slowed me down but fear drove me towards it. Becoming a pilot was the first thing I decided that I would succeed at, no matter what, that I also felt I also wasn’t going to succeed at, no matter what.” 

Eight years ago, Liam began flight lessons at Albert Whitted Airport with St. Pete Air. Liam studied and intimately came to understand how an airplane really does stay in the air. With the help of his instructors and other pilots in the community, he realized flying the airplane was within his control. He earned his wings. 

“Albert Whitted Airport is special to me,” he said, peering out of his hangar with admiration, watching the sun set below downtown St. Petersburg. “It’s so special to have an airport on the water, right next to downtown and so close to the beaches. There’s a nice sense of community around this airport and important history here.”

This year, Liam flew the Anomaly to two of the country’s largest air shows. At Lakeland’s Sun n’ Fun aerospace expo, the Mooney was awarded for having the Best Unique Paint Scheme. It was also on display showcasing its Lycoming Engines at EAA Airventure fly-in convention in Oshkosh. 

Imparting words of encouragement and inspiration to future pilots, Liam said, “If I can do it with this lifelong fear of flying, I think that most people can.”

The Mooney Anomaly, with its kaleidoscope of colors, is more than an aircraft; it’s a radiant embodiment of our capacity to transcend, transform, and ultimately, take flight.

Albert Whitted Airport has helped thousands of people fulfill their dream of becoming a pilot. The instructors at St. Pete Air are dedicated to ensuring those with a passion for flight can earn their license, and flight training scholarships from the Friends of Albert Whitted Airport enable young people from under-represented communities to realize this dream.