MJCA pilot

Mt. Juliet Christian Academy 11th grade student Nick Henry, 16, with a Piper Cub airplane at the Lebanon Airport. He’s been training in it to get his pilot’s license and has already logged nearly 10 hours. SUBMITTED

Nick Henry has always been fascinated by planes.

The 16-year-old Mt. Juliet Christian Academy junior is well on his way to conquer the skies with nearly 10 hours already logged toward his pilot’s license. Each weekend the log is augmented.

“My dream is to go into the military and then fly missionaries to foreign lands,” said Henry, who lives in Gladeville.

MJCA Secondary Principal Jon Willis said he’s not surprised Henry has logged hours in the sky at such a young age.

“He’s a great kid,” he said. “He keeps his grades in order and is ambitious. He’s well respected and liked. He’s part of the FFA and I’m not surprised he’s on his way to becoming a pilot.”

Henry makes straight As and two weeks ago was part of the school’s homecoming court. He also works at Jersey Oven Bakery after school.

“I love the physics of it all,” he said thoughtfully. “It blows my mind. A hunk of metal hanging up in the sky.”

His childhood fascination with aviation really took off in the ninth grade.

“I took an aerospace class,” Henry said. “My teacher gave me a chance to apply for a Sattler Foundation camp. It required an essay to be approved for the camp. I wrote it up.”

Janet Piper works in community outreach with the Sattler Foundation which has been holding an aerospace camp for middle schoolers each June at the Lebanon Municipal Airport for five years (except this year due to COVID-19).

Piper’s husband, Gary, is Henry’s official mentor through this journey skyward. He owns a 1947 Piper Cub and Janet owns a Cessna.

“The Sattler Foundation is a non-profit organization that provides students in Middle Tennessee exposure to aviation and space education and related employment opportunities,” said Piper, who works directly with Henry on a regular basis toward his pilot’s license.

She said Henry’s essay was accepted and he won a spot at the camp.

“We had a week at the Lebanon Airport,” said Henry. “There was a Chinook there and we got to tour the Nashville Airport. We got to see all the mechanics. It was amazing.”

Total family support

His mother, Dena Henry, further ignited her son’s passion and career choice, perhaps without even knowing at first.

“He kept taking about joining the military,” she said. “And flying. So, I purchased him an hour flight time over Nashville for Christmas. We wanted to see if he really wanted to do this. He went up in a small plane and loved it.”

Was it an “oops” move on her part?

“No, if it is something he really wants to do we support it,” she said. “My husband and I give our kids every opportunity to try things out. Nick is really a hardworking individual and puts his mind to something.”

And while this mom of three said each time she sees him take off with an instructor to later take over the stick in the air her “heart leaps” out of her chest, she lets him go.

“As scary as it is it’s his heart’s desire and God is leading him,” she said.

Young Eagles Chapter 863

As a Sattler Foundation graduate, Henry received an Experimental Aircraft Association Chapter 863 membership for free.

“The number of EAA student memberships have grown to the point of creating the EAA Chapter #863 Youth Group, started in the summer of 2020,” Piper said. “Right now, we are planning for some amazing fly-outs, fly-ins and fly-overs.”

The youth group is called Young Eagles. Piper is the co-director, along with Sam Ludwikowski, who is a 2020 MTSU graduate and is a flight instructor at Class Bravo Air.

“Since Sam is close to their age, the students can ask questions and talk to him about flying and the goal is real in their eyes,” said Piper.

Henry is considered one of the leaders of the 17-member youth flying group.

“I have gone up and flown a lot,” he said. “We usually have breakfast and go flying for over an hour. I love the Cessna. It’s amazing. Sometimes it’s me and a pilot and one other person.”

Other times he takes to the skies in a J3 Piper Cub with the pilot. And yes, he’s taken over the controls.

“About 3,000 feet with the window open with the air blowing,” he said. “You can’t really compare or describe. It’s light as air.”

Henry has flown over the Lebanon Airport dozens of times during his lessons.

The next quest takes off soon. In January, Henry will interview for a scholarship for a $10,000 Ray Foundation scholarship. He just missed receiving it last year.

The previous time Henry interviewed, Piper said he was impressive.

“He walked in, in a three-piece suit, and all of a sudden he was a 30-year-old man,” she recalled. “He was like a businessman and he had it all together. He is going to do great things.”

The scholarship would include the rest of Henry’s lessons, ground school and a head set. Piper said Henry could easily finish his pilot’s license training in under a year. It takes at least 30 hours in the air.

Henry said his goal is to attend Middle Tennessee State University’s aviation program, then go into the Air Force.

“I hope to fly big planes in the Air Force. That would get me better on the track of flying commercial airplanes, but I’m still thinking about that route,” he said.

Henry’s mom said her son comes from a military family. His dad is on active duty in the Army National Guard.

“I’m not afraid,” Henry said. “It’s in my blood. I know I can do this. My whole family is in the military.”

Recommended for you