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Prep Magazine: Something Special in the Air

Prep Magazine: Something Special in the Air

Photo Credit: Mike Kelley '05, Frankfurt am Main 25L (Missed Approach)
 

The Prep Aviation Club recently turned 20 and its living legacy is a generation of Eagles earning their wings and soaring up, up and away

Tucked inside a storage room on the third floor of the Ryken Center for the Arts, radio and computer equipment are wired to an antenna on the building’s rooftop, enabling the Prep to relay airband transmissions into the LiveATC.net audio network. LiveATC.net is a streaming audio system consisting of local receivers tuned to aircraft communications around the world. A pet project of the St. John’s Aviation Club, the School’s own relay system makes the Prep the exclusive, LiveATC global host for traffic in and around Beverly airport (KBVY). That fun fact seems fitting given the breadth of St. John’s alumni currently working in the aviation and aerospace industries worldwide. That number is easily in the dozens. And it’s largely thanks to the indefatigable zeal of Aviation Club moderator and science teacher Bro. Tim Paul, C.F.X. and longtime club benefactor Tom Haas ’74. Two decades after its establishment, the Aviation Club and an accompanying aeronautics curriculum have turned the intersection of Spring and Summer Streets into a feeder system for the miracle of flight.

In an alternate universe, if a teenage Haas hadn’t known a Prep classmate taking flying lessons and if Beverly Regional Airport weren’t less than two miles— as the crow flies—from campus, a lot of lives would likely be very different. An introductory flight lesson sparked Haas’s lifelong passion for piloting airplanes and learning everything about how they work. More than 7,000 cockpit hours later, he has played an everexpanding role in the unique-to-St. John’s, Prep-topilot experience. Haas has made some waves in the field of aviation as well. Personally, he’s done that as a pilot, shepherding endangered species for relocation to safer environs. Publicly, as a philanthropist and current board member of the National Air and Space Museum (NASM) at the Smithsonian Institution, he recently established the Thomas W. Haas We All Fly Gallery, a permanent exhibition inside the NASM facility on the National Mall. It’s been five decades since he first climbed into that Piper Cherokee 140 before he earned his high school diploma, but Haas still brings the curiosity of a learner to the cockpit and the youthful enthusiasm of a shared passion to his relationship with the Prep’s Aviation Club and curriculum. “Every time I go up, I’m always learning,” says Haas. “It’s that excitement of going somewhere and mastering the technology. The feeling of flying is … freedom, floating like a bird. When I see St. John’s students who are interested in aviation, I see myself 50 years ago, learning about airplanes and their mechanics and how things work. I see the light in their eyes and the excitement in their voices and say, ‘Oh, [my involvement] really does make a difference.’ I’m grateful I can help these young adults encounter something that might become a fascinating career for them.” Haas’s influence on aviation aficionados at St. John’s has reached full throttle. In 2022-23, the Prep announced that the club will benefit from the TWH ’74 Aviation Endowment Fund, a seven-figure gift by Haas.

Dimo Doulamis ’14, Chief of Mission Planning, USAF (F-15E Lead Weapons Systems Officer)

Stationed at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in Goldsboro, NC, this Lowell native is mission-critical to the 335th Fighter Squadron. After all, he’s qualified to lead a formation of four to eight aviators throughout 12 separate combat mission scenarios that his wing could find itself fighting. High stakes, indeed. But his introduction to aviation at St. John’s Prep remains very much front-of-mind for Doulamis. “The SJP Aviation Club was a pinnacle step, setting my foundation for and love of flying,” he says. “The f irst time I ever flew a plane was the first time I’d ever been in a plane. It was my junior year in Bro. Tim’s [inaugural running of the] aviation class, and he was in the back seat. It was the coolest feeling ever when I found myself flying a Piper Cherokee with Bro. Tim in my back seat. That was before I was even able to drive a car. I remember feeling nervous, the butterflies in my stomach when we were taxiing, and then when we took off … just wow. I still get to feel that every day, and I’d attribute that to Bro. Tim giving me the opportunity.” 

Of course, now Doulamis is thundering down runways in a warplane that can generate nearly 47,000 pounds of thrust and hit a maximum airspeed of 1,875 miles per hour. Leading America’s combat air power through scenario development, robust mission planning, and pristine execution in preparation to win on the battlefront requires a broad skill set. Among the most important? “Collaboration is a key factor in our ability to gain air superiority on the battlefield,” says Doulamis. “We start our deployed missions with an intelligence brief to understand the battle space we’re flying into. From there, we hold a brief with our formation to go through the most likely and most dangerous course of action that we may face on the sortie. When briefs are complete, we put on our gear and step to the jets that are meticulously cared for by our maintenance team. Once airborne, we get taskings from our command and control elements while talking to the soldiers on the ground to keep them safe. Every scenario here involves close collaboration; it’s imperative to mission success to keep open lines of communication and work together to get the job done.”

What flying feels like (in five words or fewer): “Best. Job. Ever.”

Patrick Smith ’84, Commercial Airline Pilot, Best-selling Author, Blogger

Smith learned to fly in the 1980s and worked his way up through the airline ranks in the 1990s. That was a time in the industry when most who aspired to become airline pilots faced high hurdles to ultimately fulfill those dreams. “I consider myself lucky,” says the author of the New York Times best-selling book Cockpit Confidential and the popular blog askthepilot.com, which was also the title of his book’s first edition. “I’ve been a commercial aviation nerd my whole life, and in my early teens I took flying lessons at Beverly Airport, soloing when I was 16.” A native of Revere and resident of Somerville, Smith says the flexibility the job gives him to see the world and publish his observations is the biggest perk of his day-to-day duties. Because his book includes some tell-all components, he keeps his employer—a major domestic carrier—under wraps. He also emphasizes the central role that collaboration plays in getting from point A to point B at 550 miles per hour. “Much of the decision-making process in commercial flying is, perhaps surprisingly, collaborative,” he says. “The captain has ultimate authority, but he or she is still part of a team. Whenever there’s an issue out of the ordinary, the cockpit crew will draw on expertise from the dispatchers, the maintenance staff, and so on. Some decisions are unilateral. Most aren’t.” Interestingly, Smith said he didn’t fully appreciate the opportunities available to him at St. John’s Prep until he had graduated. Feeling repentant and hoping to give something back, he eventually reached out to Bro. Tim Paul. “I’ve already presented to the Aviation Club on campus on multiple occasions and I’m looking forward to another chance to do so.”

What flying feels like: “I probably don’t deserve this.”

Kostas Speridakos ’05, First Officer, Silver Airways; Aviation Club Founder

Speridakos always knew flying would be a hobby, but he took a circuitous route to his career as a professional pilot, first working in the field of engineering at the U.S. Department of Transportation and then at NASA. Turns out, his gateway was to become a flight instructor, a role in which he earned the bulk of his qualifying hours. But mastering the cockpit was not his biggest challenge along the way. It was the teaching part. “Working as a flight instructor is five percent practicing f lying and 95 percent practicing psychology,” he says. “Teaching was different from anything I’d done before, and it really made me appreciate the knowledge, skill, and compassion of teachers at the Prep.” A native of Lynn now residing in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Speridakos’s workweek is dominated by floating on trade winds while island-hopping throughout the Caribbean. In his downtime, he’s usually working toward adding a new private business enterprise to his stable or diving into an independent philanthropic project (“the Prep instilled a hunger for service within me that I’m still working to satisfy”). He describes the Prep Aviation Club as pivotal in his journey to become a commercial pilot. “I was surrounded with people who shared not only a passion for aviation, but also the values needed for success in this high-risk, demanding space,” says Speridakos. “It’s also hard to overstate how crucial Bro. Tim’s influence has been in creating this crucible of aviation professionals and enthusiasts. He took over the club as a fledgling group, gave it wings, and nurtured it with his own passion and work. Since then, hundreds of Prep students have benefited as a result, and the exponential impact of his influence through those students to broader society is difficult to fathom. He’s also been an outstanding mentor to me ever since. Fifteen years have passed since I graduated, but I’ve never really left the SJP Aviation Club.”

What flying feels like: “Gratitude, meditation, discipline, challenge, and humility.”

Andrew Evans ’12, Captain, Delta Airlines

Based in Arlington, VA, Evans says his day-to-day is governed by laser-focus on one task: safely transporting his passengers while providing a comfortable and enjoyable experience. That single-mindedness probably played a major role in Evans rising from pilot to captain at the nation’s second-largest airline (by market share) before the age of 30. Especially considering he cut his teeth during the COVID era, when domestic air travel cratered from two million passengers a day to under 90,000. After months of job instability—with many companies furloughing staff along with downstream repercussions of slowed hiring, training, and career growth—he emerged from the clouds. “Without the SJP Aviation Club, particularly the scholarship I received for introductory flights from Tom Haas ’74 and support from Bro. Tim Paul, I likely would have never pursued this career,” says Evans, a native of Wenham. “I owe a huge debt of gratitude to them, and many others, for helping me find my true passion and dream career.

What flying feels like: “Rewarding. Dynamic. Adventurous. Responsibility. Pride.” 

 

Colin Vaughan ’23, Pilot and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University Student

He’s based in Daytona Beach, but Vaughan doesn’t have time for the boardwalk’s chilling, thrilling amusement park attractions. Then again, he’s got a sweeter ride. As an aeronautical science major, he trains in a Cessna 172 single-engine prop plane, one of 87 C172s that the University flies out of Daytona, making it the largest fleet of any college aviation program in the country. The Andover native has owned an interest in aviation for as long as he can remember, but he attributes his current circumstances directly to the opportunities he had to explore the field at St. John’s Prep. “After taking Bro. Tim Paul’s aviation science class as a sophomore, I used the knowledge I gained to start flying lessons out of Beverly Airport at the age of 15,” explains Vaughan, a two-year president of the Prep’s Aviation Club prior to graduation, who now has over 100 hours in the cockpit. “In the Aviation Club, everything from guest speakers, field trips, and flying in simulators helped provide me with the knowledge and enthusiasm to start a career in aviation. T he opportunities for aviation at St. John’s are second to none, and I took full advantage of everything they offered.” Vaughan will graduate with the necessary ratings to achieve an ATP (Airline Transport Pilot) certificate to become an airline pilot. The flight training curriculum at Embry-Riddle emphasizes leadership and critical thinking on the flight deck. “While it can be challenging, Embry-Riddle does a fantastic job of preparing pilots to be informed, resourceful, and most importantly, safe.”

What flying feels like: “An exhilarating sensation of freedom.”

Justin Foley ’15, Certified Flight Instructor,  Beverly Flight Center

This Lynnfield native is not short on empathy when it comes to his students. Foley’s typical day is a balance of classroom instruction, administrative duties, and plenty of flight lessons. Working with aspiring pilots on a wide range of goals related to ratings and licenses, he knows the struggle is real. “My biggest challenge to get where I am now was the transition from my previous job to full-time flight training in pursuit of those qualifications,” he says. “It’s a pretty big win when you finally pass a checkride [one of many FAA practical tests pilots must pass to receive a particular certification or rating]. I regret not getting involved in aviation earlier or at the Prep. Now, I enjoy my opportunity to guide the next generation and share in their passion and excitement.”

What flying feels like: “It was meant to be.”

 

Michael Dougherty ’89, Senior Fuel Supply Analyst, Signature Aviation

If Dougherty makes a mistake at work, a lot of people aren’t going to get where they’re going. Fortunately, he’s had elite training. After joining the Navy in 2009, he became an Aviation Logistics Specialist. He’d always loved planes, but during a 2013 tour of duty at Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan he, “slept 200 yards from the flightline and my time in Kandahar made me absolutely love aviation.” Thanks to his participation in 2012 Rim of the Pacific training in Honolulu, the North Andover native also knew where he wanted to end up working in aviation: Hawaii. He jumped at his current gig in Honolulu two years ago and has never looked back. These days, he’s responsible for reviewing supply levels and ordering fuel for four airports across the island chain. “Collaboration is absolutely essential in this role,” he says. “We have two fuel suppliers that send us an average of one to two million gallons via pipeline daily in Honolulu. Only one supplier can use the pipeline each day, so it’s critical we make sure we have space to hold the fuel and the proper amount to cover daily flights.” Dougherty’s company also receives millions of gallons of fuel via barge, which requires maintaining enough space in their tanks to accept the full load. On the outer islands, a lot of fuel arrives by truck. With multiple trucks bringing in fuel each day for several different airlines, and with offloading being limited to one truck at a time, precision scheduling is the difference between success and failure. “We just took on Kona [as a client] this year,” he says. “That airport (KOA) has no holding tanks, so all fuel is supplied via truck. Suppliers send trucks from Hilo, which is a two-hour drive. Due to driver restrictions, a lack of CDL drivers, and Mother Nature [i.e. f ires, lava, road shutdowns], loads frequently go undelivered. It’s my job to ensure a decent supply is on hand. Two years ago, Kona ran out of fuel during the holiday rush: no bueno. Since we took over last January, airline fuel supplies have remained positive.”

What flying feels like: “It’s like a dream.”

Bill Barker ’12, First Officer, Republic Airways

A Boston-based Embraer E170 and E175 jet co-pilot, Barker is a shining example of how being open to a professional pivot can lead to bliss in one’s chosen work. The North Andover native studied mechanical engineering and spent four and a half years designing jet engine components for a major manufacturer. Despite obtaining 37 patents for gas turbine engines, he finally forced himself to admit that his true passion was flying. Of course, that’s when the hard part started. “Flying is expensive,” says Barker, who makes his home in Biddeford, ME and flies 88-seat passenger jets to various domestic and international destinations. “First, you have to get your private pilot’s certificate, then instrument rating, then commercial pilot’s certificate at a minimum of 250 total flight hours, then a multi-engine commercial rating, and finally your ATP and jet type rating at 1,500 total hours.” Barker points out, however, that there are more ways than one to crack the nut of becoming an airline pilot. “I found many solutions to the financial challenge, which allowed me to become a commercial captain debt-free while keeping training costs low.” His counsel to up-and-comers? He says scholarships are a great option, a number of which are relatively unknown, including some scholarships that attach age limits to funding opportunities. Another solution is training privately versus going to college or flight school. A third solution—Barker’s secret to the cheapest path toward becoming an airline pilot—is purchasing your own aircraft, which he also did, saving $50,000 in rental costs. “High school is the best time to obtain as many scholarships as you can toward your flight training,” he says. “The SJP Aviation Club and Bro. Tim Paul did an amazing job at cultivating my passion for aviation. 18 I constantly looked forward to Thursday afternoons. I remember the first meeting I ever went to. We were tasked with spending 10 minutes to write down why we’d like to learn how to fly. The 10 best responses were selected to train in Piper Warriors at the local f light school. “We also took many memorable field trips,” he continues. “We once took an in-depth tour of Boston Logan, visiting the Air Traffic Control Tower and f ire station, also touring in an airport vehicle around the perimeter of the airfield. Now that I’m based out of Boston, I am constantly reminded of that day as I taxi past memorable locations that were on that tour.”

What flying feels like: “Freedom. Exhilaration. Like sprouting wings.”

Bro. Tim Paul, C.F.X., Principles of Aviation Science and Aeronautics teacher, Aviation Club Moderator

Bro. Tim Paul definitely didn’t know what he was getting into when he agreed to moderate the fledgling Aviation Club in the fall of 2003. “At the very beginning, it was hard to know whether the club was sustainable, but it really caught on fast,” he recalls. “Around 2009, we started putting flight simulator equipment in the Ben Hall computer room, and it just grew.” T he club also had a little help from a friend. Tom Haas ’74 became an admirer of the goings on and, in 2006, began funding an “introductory flying package” for 10 club members annually, allowing students to earn their first three hours of flight time and one hour of ground school at Beverly Airport. Within a half-decade, St. John’s aviation culture had taken off. Flight simulator capacity grew to accommodate 40 members. The club’s “insider” field trips to Beverly Airport, Logan Airport, Manchester Tower, Lawrence Tower, Pease AFB, Boston Center ATC, Boston TRACON ATC, GE in Lynn, and others became a feature attraction. Annual club trips to the Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. and the Udvar-Hazy Center in VA were added in 2012. T hat same year, the Prep added Principles of Aviation Science and Aeronautics to its science curriculum offerings. The course, taught by Bro. Tim, mimics the private pilot ground school using the FAA curriculum, requiring him to attain advanced ground school instructor certification from the agency. The goal is to prepare students to take the Private Pilot FAA written exam as the course introduces students to topics in physics, math, biology, chemistry, navigation, weather, and earth science. “I don’t know of any other school that teaches a semester class in aviation science, so that’s unique to the Prep, I think,” says Bro. Tim. “Anytime you see a kid who’s so interested that they go on to get their private pilot license, it’s pretty gratifying for everyone involved. A healthy number of Prep grads have entered military service to (touch the aviation sector) and many others have gone on to study aviation in college; they’ve been f lying ever since. It’s the kind of thing where you get the bug and it sticks. It’s hard to let it go.”

What flying feels like: “Heaven on earth.”

Mike Kelley ’05, Photographer

Los Angeles-based photographer Mike Kelley ’05 discovered his love of art on the third floor of Ryken. “By some incredible stroke of luck I got into Harriet Malone’s art classes. She changed my life. There was no judgment, no competition, no expectations other than putting in effort to see something through to completion.” But while his love of art was found in his teenage years, his love of aviation began much earlier. Now, Kelley has found immense success as a photographer specializing in architecture, but he never lost his passion for planes. His series titled Airportraits—Photoshopped compilations of photos of planes taken over the course of a single day—has been exhibited in museums all over the world. “I wanted to create something that was more than just a ‘plane in the sky’ type of photo,” says Kelley. “I’ve always experimented with long exposures, and loved Photoshop, so thought it would be interesting to combine the two.” Kelley is understandably proud of his work. “The response has been amazing. Especially considering I took a non-conventional path to make it in the art world. No MFA, no gallery connections, etc, just a love of a subject and medium.” But what is it about aviation for Kelley? “In my opinion, it’s humanity’s greatest technological achievement,” he says. “We took something we were never made to do in a million years and made it easy, safe, and affordable. It’s mind-blowing. Sit at 35,000 feet and look down at Greenland below you while you do something mundane like answer emails at 600 miles per hour. All of the combined knowledge that had to be lined up to make that happen is awe-inspiring.” And if that doesn’t convince you, he has a more on-thenose recommendation for you. “I dare anyone to stand next to a 747 while it takes off and not be moved in some way. It’s easy to never appreciate the size of these things from inside an airport, but … wow. It’s a city building generating its own lift.”

“Strangely enough, no desire to become a pilot,” Kelley ’05 says. “It still fascinates me though!” You can catch Kelley behind the helm of his sailboat instead.


P.S. Read about the recent Prep graduate who has his sights set on the Los Angeles Olympics.

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