Childhood is the stuff dreams are made of and everyone envisions what they’ll one day become. For most, dreams change and life happens. It’s a rare few who stick to their ambitions and make them a reality. Layton Howerton, a Lanesboro Class of 2017 valedictorian, is taking his childhood dream and soaring.
“I first became interested in aviation when I was little,” says Howerton. “I saw the Blue Angles fly several times in Pensacola, Fla., where my grandparents lived and spent a lot of time at the National Naval Aviation Museum on Pensacola’s Navy base. I can remember flying to Pensacola. It was really amazing and the pilot gave my sisters and I wings. I still have them!” he enthuses.
Last summer, he attended the Aviation Career Education camp at South Dakota State University. It was the first time he had the opportunity to fly in a small aircraft, a Cessna 172. In December, looking to find additional flying time, he discovered the Young Eagles program run by the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA). “The program inspires young aviators by taking them on a free ride. I needed to become a Young Eagle before I turned 18 in January,” he notes. As fate would have it, an EAA Chapter in Blaine, Minn., had a flight in December and Howerton was able to meet the cutoff. “It was amazing!” he says.
Through Young Eagles, Howerton learned the Blaine Chapter gives an annual scholarship to one student for camp at EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wis. The scholarship covers the full camp cost, including flight experiences in both small aircraft and helicopter, workshops, and classroom study.
While searching the internet for other opportunities, he also discovered the LeRoy W. Homer Jr. (LWH)Foundation. The foundation pays homage to the late LeRoy W. Homer Jr., First Officer of hijacked United Airlines Flight 93, which went down in a field near Shanksville, Pa., on September 11, 2001.
Howerton opted to apply for both scholarships, not expecting anything. “It was a very long application process,” he recalls. “I had to write several essays and get letters of recommendation. I really wasn’t expecting to win either scholarship.”
In early spring, Howerton was notified he’d been selected to receive the EAA scholarship. “I was very excited and grateful,” he says. In May, he found out he’d also been selected for the prestigious LeRoy W. Homer Jr. Scholarship as well. The scholarship covers all costs related to obtaining a private pilot license.
The process to secure a pilot’s license may be tedious enough, but add a limited timeframe and it takes one determined spirit. In addition to the required minimum of 40 hours of flight time, would-be-pilots must complete 10 hours of solo time, solo cross-country time, a written test, oral test, and a practical test. “There are many specific skills that have to be learned before the training is complete. Isaac Deters, my instructor, has been great. We have had a very tight schedule and he’s been awesome to work with.”
“My solo cross-country trip was a really interesting experience,” recalls Howerton. “I flew my instructor and another pilot to Indiana to purchase an airplane. They flew back in the new plane and I was on my own to fly back from Indiana. It was quite an adventure!”
“The LeRoy W. Homer scholarship has been amazing. It is such an honor to learn to fly in memory of a 9-11 pilot. I think about him often when I’m flying,” he adds. “Brian Florence, vice president of the LWH Foundation, has been great during this whole process. He has been very encouraging, and he even flew to Minnesota to meet Isaac and me.”
The time crunch of obtaining a pilot’s license amid everything else was easily the most challenging for Howerton. “We didn’t start flying until June 21 and I needed to be finished before I went to school at Iowa State August 16. It was a lot of work but definitely worth it!” In the middle of it all, July 19-27, Howerton departed for EAA.
“Each day we had workshop time and classroom time. During the workshop time we built a wing rib, worked with sheet metal, learned to weld, and made a fiberglass clipboard. In the classroom, we studied things like weather, aerodynamics, aircraft systems, aerial navigation, and flight controls and systems. The last two days of camp we were free to roam AirVenture. We watched air shows, visited many of the aircraft manufacturers, and got to check out all of the different aircraft,” he adds.
“This was my first time at AirVenture, and I loved it! It is such a massive airshow. It was fun to see all of the different kinds of aircraft,” Howerton continues. “If it flies, it will be at Oshkosh; from vintage WWII planes to kit built aircraft to all kinds of experimental flying contraptions. I’m really interested in all types of WWII aircraft.”
As luck would have it, the very first LeRoy W. Homer Jr. Foundation scholarship winner was also attending AirVenture in Oshkosh. “Lieutenant Mike Scott, United States Navy F-18 flight instructor and Gulf War veteran, met our son and took him up in a vintage WWII era T-6 Texan trainer. It was an acrobatic experience he will never forget!” adds Christine Howerton, Layton’s mother. “This amazing opportunity would not have happened if Layton had not won both of these amazing scholarships.”
“I can’t really describe how amazing it was to fly in the Texan,” remembers Layton Howerton. “We flew with another Texan ‘in formation.’ We did simulated dogfights and barrel rolls. I was able to fly the plane during part of the flight, and it was awesome flying a vintage airplane. One of the best parts of this whole experience was getting to meet Lieutenant Scott at AirVenture. He was the first recipient of the LeRoy W. Homer Jr Scholarship. The LWH Foundation winners are all very close and they often get together. Next year, they are planning a big event on September 11 and are flying all of the past scholarship winners to New Jersey to attend.” For more information or to learn how to apply for this scholarship, visit https://www.leroywhomerjr.org/scholarships/. Applications are posted each October, with a January 31 deadline.
Plans for Howerton from this point on aren’t all decided yet. “I’ve always known that I wanted to have a career that somehow relates to aviation. I would really love to work for Boeing, Lockheed, NASA, or SpaceX after graduating from Iowa State with a degree in aerospace engineering.”
“The most rewarding part of all of this has been the flying. I love to fly, and it’s really fun to see the countryside from the air,” he adds.
Howerton is the son of Christine and Winston Howerton. He is a student member of the Experimental Aircraft Association, Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, and the Flying Cyclones at Iowa State.