In celebration of the 35th anniversary of the EAA Air Academy in 2018, we’re featuring Air Academy graduates whose stories inspire and exemplify the impact of the program.
David Snell, EAA 257266, was obsessed with aviation long before he attended the EAA Air Academy in 1985.
David grew up close to Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana, and at just 2 years old was so inspired by the aircraft above him that he was making models out of sticks and clothespins. He received his first airplane ride in a Cessna 172 at age 3, although his next, in a Stinson 108, wouldn’t happen until high school.
Those rides were special, but they paled in comparison to size of the next airplane he would fly in.
While attending the Air Academy, David learned about a rare opportunity for the campers: A Concorde would be visiting Oshkosh that summer, and one of the Air Academy attendees was going to take a ride on the supersonic-capable airliner. The winner was to be selected by chance.
“After dinner one night they put all of the names of all 56 of us in a hat, and they were going to draw 55 losers,” David said. “The last person whose name was in the hat would get to fly on the Concorde. I’ve often told people if I was ever in a contest or drawing that my name would be the last to be drawn. Well in this case it really was.”
David said watching the drawing felt more and more nerve-wracking as it got closer to its end.
“As you can imagine, when there were only 10 people left it was getting pretty stressful,” David said. “When there were five people left it was even more intense. And when there were just two of us left, holy cow, one of us is going to get it. And I was the fortunate one who got the flight.”
David said another young boy who was diagnosed with terminal cancer was also given the opportunity to take take the flight.
The two boys flew together, and although they did not end up going supersonic, they were the stars of the air show that day as the Concorde made several passes over Oshkosh.
While that Concorde flight was the highlight of the Air Academy for David, he said other experiences stuck out as well, including working on a Rearwin Cloudster and an Aerocar. Being surrounded by other young people who loved aviation had a profound impact as well.
“When I went to the Air Academy I was around kids who were just like me,” David said. “When an airplane flew over, we all looked up. We could sit around at night and talk about airplanes.”
David later graduated from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University with a degree in aerospace engineering, and went on to work for a variety of aviation companies including Cub Crafters, AeroDyne, and The NORDAM Group.
He now stays involved in aviation as an EAA Technical Counselor, a DAR, and through his continued involvement with the Civil Air Patrol, which he joined after attending the academy, when a local CAP member recruited him to join.
David is also involved with the World War II Airborne Demonstration Team, which does restoration and upkeep on the C-47 Boogie Baby and C-49 Wild Kat. As part of his work there, David will be installing the radio equipment on the Commemorative Air Force’s C-47 That’s All Brother in its D-Day configuration.
That’s a special role to be playing in a historic restoration, but, in classic EAA fashion, David is excited but more focused on the task at hand than anything else.
“I’ll have a sense of accomplishment, but I’ve got my work cut out for me,” he said.
If you or someone you know has an Air Academy story to share, e-mail us at email@example.com.