Obsessed with the sky

Published 6:08 am Thursday, May 27, 2010

Justin Hansen is one 14-year-old who just doesn’t have his feet on the ground.

Sure, the straight-A student is smart, kind and respectful, always willing to escort his grandmother to visit her family and friends — but his head is in the clouds.

And he would have it no other way.

The young pilot-to-be is all but obsessed with the sky.

Hansen, who is a regular at Austin Municipal Airport, spends his free-time watching planes take off and land, chatting up pilots whenever he gets the chance. He’s also helped fly an aircraft himself, on several of the Experimental Aircraft Association’s (EAA) Young Eagle flights. And when he can’t make it to the nearest airport, Hansen spends time at home on a Microsoft flight simulator, or listening to a scanner to learn what’s overhead.

The Ellis Middle School student even organizes some of his schoolwork around the all-consuming hobby. This year, he centered a book report and a poem around Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, the former fighter pilot who landed a stricken US Airways jet in the Hudson River this winter. His rhymes won him $100 as he was named his school’s 2010 Eberhart poet.

“I just like flying. You’re more free up there,” Hansen explained of his passion.

He will experience much more of that freedom this summer when he attends the exclusive EEA Basic Air Academy in OshKosh, Wis.

Participants in the EEA academy come from all over the U.S., and several other countries. A maximum of 48 kids are accepted to each two-week summer session.

Hansen is being sponsored by Austin’s local EEA chapter 386.

The chapter, his mother, Becky Hansen, said, “has taken Justin under their wing.”

Justin has loved to fly since escorting his grandmother, Darlene Collins, to Fort Myers, Fla. two years ago. A layover at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport provided a chance to gaze at aircrafts a bit, he said.

Since then, his grandmother, who drives him to school, is often begged to pull over at the local airport on their way each morning.

His parents are frequently requested of, too, to bring him to the Rochester airport for some gawking.

His mom and dad, Tim Hansen, said they’re thrilled he’s found his dream at such a young age, and that the EEA is helping to support it.

For career day, which is today at Ellis, Justin pre-selected a pilot, air traffic controller and airplane mechanic as professionals that he would like to meet.

The National Junior Honor Society student has also buckled down with his science and math books since developing the aviation interest, Becky said.

“He’s not shy when it comes to planes, he’s in his element,” she explained.

“Maybe it’s inherited, I don’t know,” Becky added, noting she used to work for United Airlines. “He just loves flying.”

“Yes, I do — in a nutshell,” Justin interjected.

To learn more about the EEA academy, go to www.youngeagles.org.