A hop to Goodspeed Airport in East Haddam, Connecticut, for the second annual Goodspeed Fly-In was not my first general aviation flight, though it was my first aviation event.
I should’ve skipped the coffee, I thought, after a very mild bump of turbulence. I can count on one hand the number of times I have flown in a GA aircraft, so I still am not used to the bumps and turns typical on a GA flight, and the nerves—mixed with the caffeine—were making my knees bounce. In the left seat was Tom Haines, former editor in chief of AOPA Pilot magazine. We were on our way to the second annual Goodspeed Fly-In hosted by Young Pilots USA.
Young Pilots USA was founded in 2020 with the purpose of building a flying community for the next generation. It is a members’ organization for young pilots ages 13 to 25 (though I’m told those aren’t hard boundaries). Currently, the club operates with 25 chapters in 17 states, with a heavier presence on the East Coast. Goodspeed Airport is considered the home of the organization.
We landed flawlessly and I took in the quiet airstrip. It sits in a valley alongside the Connecticut River and has one of the only seaplane bases in the area. Through the trees I spotted an opera house that I recognized from an August 2019 AOPA Pilot article. Before we finished taxiing into the parking spot, I saw a young man on a bright orange bicycle cruising toward the airplane. “That’ll be Luc,” Haines said as we pulled off our headsets.
Luc Zipkin is the founder and president of Young Pilots USA. At just 17 years old he is a private pilot who has flown at least 17 different aircraft, including multiengine and turbine aircraft, seaplanes, gliders, and warbirds. It’s easy to tell that he’s energetic, passionate about aviation, and determined to make a difference in his community and the broader aviation industry.
Zipkin led Haines and me to a hangar, where half a dozen young aviators sat in lawn chairs. The celebration was small—a product of last-minute lack of personnel to safely manage the crowds—but I enjoyed the cozy atmosphere, as it gave me a great opportunity to chat with multiple members of the club, who range in age from 14 to 20, all with different skills and backgrounds in aviation.
Fourteen-year-old Ava Hand has been around aviation her entire life and speaks fondly about the impact it had on her.
“I basically grew up in this plane,” she said, gesturing behind her. Hand is currently taking flight lessons, with hopes to solo on her sixteenth birthday. She’s more involved in the organization this year and has a particular interest in closing the gender disparity of the industry. “I really hope that we can get a lot of young girls involved,” Hand said when asked about future goals for the Young Pilots USA.
The origination was formed by a few young pilots who wanted other young people to connect with after completing flight training.
“We really ran into a lot of young people who felt that there wasn’t an accepting place for them on the recreational side of flying,” Zipkin said. The mission of the organization is to fix this problem, becoming a network, a community, of young pilots who can lean on each other. “I personally—like too many people in our industry today—got into aviation through my family,” Zipkin said. “Many of the people that I was surrounded by as a young person in aviation were people whose parents and grandparents and so on had been a part of this.” The organization strives to be particularly inclusive of individuals without this familial introduction.
One member who can speak directly to this experience is Krista Jordan. She currently serves on the executive board of Young Pilots USA. Unlike some of her fellow board members, Jordan wasn’t exposed to aviation until an after-school activity led to a discovery flight. “Amazing” is the word she used. “That feeling of really being in control of the airplane and just looking down at this place that I thought I knew so well but it looked so different from the air.” Jordan was hooked and shortly after was chosen as a recipient of the Mary Shea Memorial Scholarship, an award honoring an influential aviator based out of Massachusetts' Northampton Airport, who wanted to see more women in aviation. This award helped Jordan on her path to becoming a private pilot. She earned her certificate in February at 17.
As it got closer to midday more airplanes landed, including a glider and an Epsilon, and a few groups from the public meandered in through the gates. It was a few dozen people milling around, watching takeoffs and landings, and talking about airplanes. “Much smaller than we originally intended,” Zipkin said, “but I think turning out to be a really neat and very sort of intimate and familial environment around aviation.”
Zipkin took a few people up in his Cessna 170, including one very excited 10-year-old who has been looking forward to this since the event last year.
I first heard the name Luc Zipkin last summer, after AOPA met him along his Connecticut-to-California flight in a 1946 Piper J–3 Cub—a trip that raised awareness for AOPA Foundation flight training scholarships and two other charities. A year later he looks back at the skills that trip developed, skills he believes you cannot learn while flight training. “Once you’ve been flying for a little bit—not very long, I’m not very old—but once you’ve been flying for a little bit you start to realize how much stronger as a person learning to fly has made you and how that really that develops your skill sets in lots of other areas,” Zipkin said. “Big trips like that, big efforts like that take a little bit of fortitude and regular flight training takes a little bit of fortitude and I think that’s a really important lesson—especially for young people—to learn and that’s really a lot of what we’re about.”
Zipkin has already accomplished so much, but he does not plan on slowing down anytime soon. For Young Pilots USA he has goals of partnering with different organizations, creating new training programs, and growing the presence of young people in the industry. For personal aviation goals he is currently working on his instrument rating and anticipates obtaining his commercial and multiengine ratings soon. As for another project like his cross-country trip? “I have plenty of things planned for the future,” Zipkin said with a smile. “Suffice to say, I plan on keeping things exciting.”
It’s one thing to hear about the energy at a fly-in, and another to experience it firsthand. As Haines and I took off from Goodspeed Airport, I was left feeling very inspired by this next generation. While it might be a while before I’m no longer nervous getting into a small airplane, days like that convince me to keep trying.