Feb 10, 2009

Pilots honored with flying colors in food court

by Daniel Martinez

The interior of the Hangar Food Court was designed with pilots in mind. Models of airplanes – some a few feet in length – hang from the ceiling, while windsocks and actual airplane propellers share wall space with framed articles about famous aviators and framed aerial snapshots of the Liberty campus throughout its years of development.

And as of Wednesday, Feb. 4, with the unveiling of its new Wall of Fame, the Hangar pays its greatest tribute to aviators by honoring the first step in the lives and careers, of some of Liberty pilots.

“Aviation has always been an important part of Liberty University and Thomas Road Baptist Church,” Dave Young, the Dean of the School of Aeronautics, said to an assembled crowd just before the unveiling at 2 p.m.

“This goes back to Dr. Falwell’s traveling around the country to preach. Without aviation, he wouldn’t have been able to spread the messages he had on his heart at that time.”

When Young spoke, a large orange-and-white parachute covered the wall behind him. Shortly after speaking on behalf of the School of
Aeronautics, which was officially christened in August, Young mentioned the 260 Liberty students are currently enrolled in aviation courses. He reminded the spectators of the way Liberty’s former department of aviation has flourished since its inception six years ago, and then launched into an explanation of an old but relevant tradition.

When young aviators, such as the Liberty students who fly at the Lynchburg Regional Airport throughout the semester, first learned to fly, they ride in tandem-seating aircraft with the instructor behind them. When they encountered problems or began flying incorrectly, the instructor would often tug on the tail of their shirt to get their attention since the noise of the craft’s engine often renders talking impossible.
When the young aviators were ready, they were able to fly the craft – Liberty’s student-training aircraft is a 4-seater Cessna 172 – by themselves on their first solo flight.

Once their flight is complete, that much-tugged tail of their shirt is cut off, adorned with the pilot’s name, the type of craft, the date, place and time of the flight, and was displayed proudly. This tradition has existed since the beginning days of powered aircraft flight.

Once Young was finished speaking, Chancellor Jerry Falwell Jr. said a few words, and, shortly afterward, the parachute was pulled down to reveal nine differently-colored shirttails hanging on the wall.

The shirttails come from nine Liberty students: Jerry “Trey” Falwell III, Tom Vonolszewski, Elizabeth Partie, Matthias Wrede, Jacob Perdew, Andrew Hollis, James Mashburn Jr., J. Michael Kennedy and Shelly Engel.

The shirttails on display will be rotated several times a semester as, according to School of Aeronautics Chairman Ernie Rogers, two or three students fly their first solo every week.

“I think it’s important because it allows aviation students the chance to show their accomplishments to the student body as a whole,” Rogers said of the display, also mentioning the 60 that already hang in the department’s Ready Room.

“I love it – it’s a good idea,” Trey Falwell said. His gray shirttail hangs on the Wall of Fame commemorating June 13, 2006, when he completed his first solo flight at age 16. For Trey, aviation is a hobby, while others intend to connect flying to their plans for the future.

Senior Kevin Martin’s shirttail hangs in the Ready Room, a symbol of hope for the future he hopes is ahead of him.

“I want to fly into hurricanes with the Noah Corps,” he said. “They drop sonar buoys, measure wind speed (and) check the tradition of the storms.”

The Wall of Fame also features some new framed pictures – one shows the late Dr. Falwell cutting off Trey’s shirttail – and a large framed poem written by a late airman of the Royal Canadian Air Force. The airman, Pilot Officer Gillespie Magee, was killed on Dec. 11, 1941, but his profound, rhythmic poem is now displayed for students to contemplate.

A few lines of the poem’s text were spelled in the icing on the cake featured at the ceremony, which was cut up and dished out following the unveiling: “And by the silent lifting mind I’ve trod…put out my hand and touched the face of God.”

Contact Daniel Martinez at

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