Annabelle Klein is a fourth-generation pilot, and she knows she’s lucky to have grown up around airplanes and aviation. She’s also aware that many other kids don’t have the same opportunities as she did growing up. In 2015 she founded Flight Club 502 to inspire students to get involved in the aviation field.
Klein says science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) embody every aspect of aviation. She says the curriculum at Flight Club 502 is built around those subjects. Klein wants kids to realize the field of aviation involves more than just flying. Many people don’t realize aviation careers include engineers, air traffic controllers, meteorologists and even marketing specialists.
One differentiating factor of Flight Club 502 is that the organization is a club, not a flight school. It’s owned and operated by student members with adult supervision. To become part of the club, you must be a member. Three membership opportunities are available including ground level, flight level and adult advisory.
“The club aspect is very inspiring to me,” Klein says. “We have youth officers as president, vice president, treasurer and so on. Those are usually older kids with committees, with younger teens working on them. For example, our marketing committee has about 10 members working together.”
Each year the club votes on youth officers. Interested members apply and discuss their interest in propelling the club forward. Klein says recently, a member was interested in creating an engineering committee to work with a 3D printer. She says while adults are there to assist and guide, the club is run entirely by its members.
Klein says she thinks of the club as a youth development program, similar to Junior Achievement but with airplanes. Aviation is just one piece of the program. The club is geared toward youths aged 13 to 21, with some members staying on as employees after they age out of the club. She says only about 40% of members ever actually fly.
“We started doing a lot of outreach, and in 2022 we served 1,200 youth across Kentucky and Indiana,” Klein says. “We do outreach with schools where we go in and open kids’ eyes to all the possibilities of aviation. We’ve also worked with The Cabbage Patch Settlement House and Kentucky Refugee Ministries.”
Jonas Gordon serves as collegiate advisor and has been a member since 2019. He says for the longest time he knew he wanted to fly, but he had no idea where to start. Gordon graduated from duPont Manual High School in 2021. He describes himself as a jack of all trades for the organization, but Klein says Gordon is a crucial player in the club.
“Flight Club allowed me to achieve my dreams of becoming a pilot,” Gordon says. “I love it. Honestly, I don’t know where I’d be without it. I’m here almost every day to help out in as many ways as I can.”
Klein says the executive board has a working board meeting once per month. The eight-member team also meets with the youth president, vice president and treasurer. Student members are encouraged to sit in on executive board meetings if they’re interested.
Introduction to Flight Club 502 is a prerequisite class for any member seeking to join. The course covers the history of the organization. It also focuses on requirements for a private pilot certificate, aircraft components, basic aerodynamics, flight organizations, jobs in aviation, aircraft systems, use of checklists, taxi procedures, fundamentals of flight, aeromedical factors and aeronautical decision making. Students then choose additional courses based on their aviation interests.
“We have our monthly membership meetings where we have a guest speaker, and then the members break out into their committees,” Klein says. “We also offer one social event each month. In February we had a Super Bowl party. It’s just a fun time to get together.”
Flight Club 502 is based out of Bowman Field in Louisville. Klein says in 2015, the group started meeting at Hangar 5, the Vintage Warbirds hangar, thanks to Jeff Daus. Then in 2019, the club had grown so much that they needed a bigger space. Klein and company moved into the Central American building next door to the old terminal.
“It was unoccupied for years,” Klein says. “It needed a lot of renovation, but we had volunteers, kids and parents helping us to make it nice.”
Various scholarship opportunities are available for deserving members. Criteria for selection include motivation, needs, merit and availability for training. Funds may be used for any flight-training-related expenses, books and equipment.
“The Flight Club 502 Kentucky Aviation Aerospace Education Endowment was created from a very generous donation by Mark and Kellie Carter,” Klein says. “We hope to let that fund grow while utilizing it later to sustain and grow Flight Club.”
Part of that growth includes inspiring other clubs in different parts of the United States. In November 2021, Flight Club 502 flew its fleet to Blue Grass Airport in Lexington and launched Flight Club 859. The Flight Across America program is designed to accomplish several objectives including immediate outreach and exposure to Flight Club 502 and its accomplishments. The effort is developed around a framework of establishing a franchise package that includes a startup narrative and a handbook to help create flight clubs across the country.
“The package includes the tasks and steps necessary to establish a Flight Club,” Klein says. “It also provides substantive content and course material that FC502 has developed to conduct aviation-related training, programming, outreach, after-school programs and summer camps.”
The four pillars of Flight Club 502 are STEM education, patriotism, entrepreneurship and good decision making. Klein says the Gone West program is one way the club embodies patriotism. Gone West is a term used in the aviation industry when someone dies. Klein describes the program as a chance to bring our community together and be thankful for the country where we live.
“We had our last Gone West ceremony in October honoring Major General Philip Ardery,” Klein says. “About 150 people attended and we had a flyover. It was gorgeous. We’ll hold our next one in the spring.”
Klein says the club isn’t just important to the aviation community and all of Louisville. She says, to put it simply, it brings people together for amazing opportunities.
“I’ve watched shy kids who wouldn’t look people in the eye become great public speakers,” Klein says. “I really think it has the ability to change lives. Flying makes people confident. We have a great community of people here who listen to each other and mentor one another.”
Klein now serves as executive director at the age of 25. She says it’s incredible to see how much the club has grown over the years, and it is a full-circle experience for her.
“I never thought in 2015, when we started, this would be my future,” Klein says. “I went off to college in Nashville but stayed on the executive board. I came back to Louisville last year and it’s insane to see how much it’s grown.”
Klein and Gordon hope Flight Club 502 will continue to fly high for years in Louisville and other cities across the United States.