Scouts get firsthand aviation experience from local pilots

Pictured from left: Pilot Sam Hardin; Nicholas Hairston, 15, of Troop 2; Emerson Houston, 15, of Troop 15; Nicholas Steinport, 14, of Troop 2; Andrew Keith, 15, of Troop 27, Peyton King, 16, from Troop 15 and pilot Carey Hardin (Photo by Ryan Phillips, SDN)

If you saw two World War II-era fighter planes buzzing over Starkville on Saturday, you were witnessing local scouts getting hands-on experience in the aviation field.

Father and son duo Carey and Sam Hardin spent Saturday morning taking scouts from Camp Seminole into the skies above Oktibbeha County in their Stearman aircraft.

Star Scout and 14-year-old Nicholas Steinport, of Troop 2, said he learned about the different instruments on the vintage training plane and even got to use the plane’s rudder.
“Taking off was a little scary, but once you were in the air it was really cool,” Steinport said. “I thought it was going to be great.”

Steve See, a trained pilot himself, helped coordinate the event and imparted his own aviation expertise to the scouts, who have visited the Golden Triangle Regional Airport’s control tower and taken a tour of Airbus manufacturing facilities in Columbus.

“(See) is a pilot and has got the background experience,” Carey Hardin said. “It’s very rare you have an aviation merit badge. You run a kid through a program like this and it’s a potentially life-changing thing.”

Sam Hardin, an Eagle Scout himself in Troop 14, said they are always looking to help out local scouts.

When asked what impact something like a scout’s first open-air flight could mean, Sam Hardin pointed to how every pilot starts by being inspired.

“Ask anybody who has a pilots license, they got their start somewhere and just got bit with the bug and they wanted to learn to fly,” Sam Hardin said. “Hopefully, some of these kids got bit this morning.”

Sixteen-year-old Life Scout Peyton King said he had flown before, but never in an open-air cockpit.

“It was a lot more fun with an open cockpit than in a regular plane,” King said. “I like being high in the air, you can see everything and I liked the helmets we wore. They looked very retro and it felt like I was a World War II fighter pilot.”

After taking to the skies, none of the scouts expressed any kind of fears or apprehensions about doing it again.

“Give it a try, even if you’re scared just give it a try cause you might like it,” Steinport said.

Both planes flown by the Hardins were once used as training aircraft, with one used in the Army Air Corps and the other in the U.S. Navy.

Sam Hardin explained that the Stearman open-air planes were typically the first airplane aspiring fighter pilots would fly.

“(The Stearman) washed out a lot of pilots because they don’t want to go straight on the ground, you are constantly on the rudder pedals to keep the thing straight,” he said. “They landed on grass most of the time, and they have those big tires that grip really well. On asphalt they are more of a challenge, but on grass they are pretty easy to manage.”

Both Sam and Carey Hardin enjoy working with the scouts, along with flying airshows, but the pair also take pride in flying veterans, some of whom trained in Stearman aircraft.

Carey Hardin said the younger generation can span the spectrum between excitable and uninterested when flying, but on the older end, it becomes something much more special.

He said for the fifth year in a row, they will fly in an air show sponsored by the Santa Rosa Island Authority. As part of the event, they will fly World War II veterans, which as become a tradition.

“We started out with 11 and every year we’ve been in the 20s,” Carey Hardin said.

Sam Hardin echoed his father, stressing how quickly World War II veterans are dying off.

“Any chance we get to take someone up who flew these things when they were 19 years old, there’s just nothing better,” he said.

When asked what it was like flying next to his son, Carey Hardin said he couldn’t think of a better wingman.

“Unbelievable treat, it’s so neat flying airshows together because you’re having to look at a lot of things,” he said. “You know when you glance over he’s going to be right where he needs to be."