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March 22, 2015

New group takes off with focus on faith, flying, fellowship

Tom Beckenbauer, founder and president of the Catholic Aviation Association, speaks at the first Carmel Deanery Chapter meeting. (Photo by Megan Tobin)

Tom Beckenbauer, founder and president of the Catholic Aviation Association, speaks at the first Carmel Deanery Chapter meeting. (Photo by Megan Tobin)

By Megan Tobin

CARMEL — Over eggs, sausage and coffee, approximately 60 aviation enthusiasts from across central Indiana discussed and shared their passion when the Catholic Aviation Association recently hosted its first Carmel Deanery Chapter meeting at the Carmel Lions Club.

Tom Beckenbauer, president and founder of the CAA, enthusiastically greeted the students, first-time participants, friends and neighbors who attended.

He described it as “ground zero” for God working in their lives through aviation.

Only four people now work at the CAA headquarters, but he hopes to build up the staff needed to support a national organization.

“As Jesus said, ‘When I am lifted up from the Earth, I will draw all men to myself,’” Beckenbauer said, quoting from John 12:32.

Aviation can free men and women from worldly constraints such as gravity and daily struggles, as Jesus frees them from struggles with sin by lifting them up through his death and resurrection, said Beckenbauer, a member of St. Maria Goretti Parish in Westfield.

“In the world of aviation, there are natural laws we need to know to successfully fly the skies and enjoy the incredible experience of seeing the world from above,” he said. “In life, God has revealed to us his laws and made available to us all we need to know to live the abundant, joyful life.”

Beckenbauer knows the “joyful life.” He learned about flying from his father, and joined the Navy to become a flight officer. He served as a Navy JROTC program manager and naval science instructor. After retiring from the Navy, Beckenbauer became a flight operations manager for FedEx, which allowed him to finally become a pilot.

Flying is in his blood and faith is in his heart.

“God had impressed on me the vision of using the lessons learned in aviation to help catechize people,” Beckenbauer said. “There is a great need to bring faith back into the culture and out into the public, to be a witness to the way of life God intends for us.”

He said he feels the call to shine the light of Christ in the world and, just as an airport beacon guides pilots to safety, the CAA will strive to let the people of God know where there is a safe place to assemble and enjoy faith, flying and fellowship.

The joyful life is exactly what Beckenbauer wants to make available to people, especially young people.

“There is a great enthusiasm from young people to fly, but it has not been possible for them,” he said.

Eventually, he’d like for the CAA to buy planes and lease them to chapters.

He also is working with 10 to 15 students at St. Theodore Guerin High School, Noblesville, to teach them ground school aviation skills and flight simulation. They will begin flying lessons this summer in gliders.

The first meeting of the Carmel Deanery club was the next step in reaching more people and encouraging them to become involved in a new hobby.

Michaela Salazar, from Roncalli High School, Indianapolis, is thrilled to know about the group.

“I flew in a plane for my 15th birthday and it was awesome,” she said. “I want to be a pilot one day.”

Her older sister, Shelby, shares an interest in aviation and has a degree in air traffic control.

“I think it’s really exciting that this group is forming,” Shelby said. “I think it’s a great opportunity for young people to get involved, especially girls.”

One roadblock, Beckenbauer said, is aviation’s reputation of being expensive and not an everyday hobby. He wants to change that perception and he wants to change how people enjoy flying.

“In aviation, it takes a diverse community to keep things going safely and smoothly,” he said. “In our Christian pilgrimage through life, it takes a lot of help from people to ‘take off’ and navigate to our destination — eternal union with God in heaven.”

The essential mission of the Catholic Aviation Association is to help fellow members, especially young people, fly successfully through life, both on the ground and in the air, by being part of a community of faith, flying and fellowship, he said.

According to Aaron Stephenson, instructor at the Vincennes University Aviation Technology Center, there is another reason to increase interest in aviation.

“There are about 300 aviation jobs available here in Indianapolis,” he said. “We are only graduating about 35 students per semester right now.”

“This really is a grassroots organization,” Beckenbauer said. “A little help can make a big difference.”

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