The founder and chairman of Sporty’s, whose online flight training course is offered free to Young Eagles, and the president of Omega Research Inc., who has donated money for EAA and AirVenture improvements, will be awarded the highest honor EAA bestows to its members.
Hal Shevers (EAA 279855) and Craig Willan (EAA 165239) will each receive the President’s Award tonight at Theater in the Woods.
The President’s awards provide Rod Hightower an opportunity to personally acknowledge members whose participation and contributions represent the essence of EAA.
“There is a saying that one must learn: earn and return,” Shevers said. “I learned, earned, and now I’m returning.”
Shevers said Sporty’s went to EAA a few years ago and asked to do something for its youth programs on a year-round basis. About the same time, Sporty’s began offering its educational programs online.
Sporty’s Complete Flight Training Course—a $215 value—is offered for free to youth who have taken a Young Eagles ride. The online course is designed to take youth all the way through the process of passing the FAA written exam required to earn their private pilot certificate.
Sporty’s began offering its entire library of educational programs in multiple formats in 2008 including DVD, online streaming, downloadable format, and mobile phone applications.
Then, in April 2009, Shevers partnered with EAA to start the Next Step program, a follow-up to the Young Eagles introductory flight program.
“What made this arrangement possible is the web,” Shevers said. “The delivery is so much more economical than any other way.”
Shevers, who has been a CFI for 50 years, founded Sporty’s Pilot Shop in 1960 to sell pilot supplies to his students. But throughout the years Sporty’s evolved, and in 1987 Sporty’s Academy was founded to develop aviation courses and to produce videos that teach pilots everything they need to know about aviation.
Today, Sporty’s Academy is an FAA-approved Part 141 flight school that provides flight training for international students as well as for the University of Cincinnati’s Professional Pilot program.
In 2007, Shevers was inducted into the National Association of Flight Instructors Hall of Fame for his significant contributions to aviation education and flight instruction.
Shevers said he is honored to receive the award the same time as Willan. “I am humbled and amazed. Thank you, EAA, for recognizing what we at Sporty’s are trying to do for the next generation of pilots.”
By training, Craig Willan is an aircraft metallurgical engineer who has a passion for electrical aviation developments. He has been active with SAE and ASTM as chairman of many aerospace committees dealing with materials and processes in the last 35 years. He is also an experimental-aircraft homebuilder and lifetime EAA member, who, with his wife, has made major contributions to EAA.
“My brother passing away gave me the spark to get going with my involvement with EAA,” he said. “We’ve opened our hearts and our checkbooks the last few years.”
They have helped fund the Willan Space Gallery, the Founders’ Wing, and recent AirVenture buildings and grounds improvements.
But Willan is most proud of one addition his money has purchased—benches for the AirVenture grounds.
“It wasn’t that it cost a substantial amount of money compared to other projects,” he said. “It’s just that you need to sit down, relax, take in the environment and enjoy this gift called flight.”
Willan knows from personal experience that benches were needed. In 2004, he brought his brother, who was battling cancer and undergoing chemotherapy treatment, to AirVenture.
“It was difficult for him,” Willan recalled. “There was little shade and few places to sit down.”
His brother died in 2005. A few years later, when plans for upgrading the convention grounds began, Willan made sure seating was addressed. Over two years, he purchased 250 benches for the AirVenture site.
Willan said his passion for aviation began as a boy when he rode his bike 4 miles to the local airport to sit on the side of the runway and watch planes fly by.
After graduating from college, he went to work for Bell Helicopters, eventually starting his own aircraft testing company. Along the way, he received four U.S. patents.
However, Willan said he was surprised to receive the award. “I’ve been very fortunate, yet I still consider myself little Craig Willan from Rapid City, South Dakota. I’m a nobody from nowhere. But I do like to plug away and assist EAA because aviation is my passion….”