LAUREL – Steele Stephens has been flying airplanes for 15 years, and he calls it “the ultimate freedom.”
“You know it’s just the ultimate freedom. You take off, you get to see sites that only four generations of people in history get to see,” Stephens said.
A year ago, Stephens, 24, discovered his real passion for aviation and decided to do something about it. He became an instructor.
Through this process, Stephens, and his father, Rob Stephens, who taught him how to fly, discovered a shortage of instructors in the Billings area.
“Rocky Mountain College has great training, but you have to be a part of their school,” Steele Stephens said, “so we realized there was an opening for a new flight school and we kind of jumped on the opportunity.”
The Stephenses partnered up about a month ago and opened Mission Aviation flight school in Laurel.
“There just aren’t a lot of young guys in the pipeline,” Rob Stephens said “That was one of the things Steele reminded me was – ‘You know dad, a lot of people helped you in this industry, let’s do something where we can help other people get into it. Pass along what you know, and what I know.’”
Mission Aviation also has partnerships with different organizations. One is Veteran Air Warriors, a nonprofit that helps young veterans leaving the military transition into the civilian world to get their pilot’s license
“Just something that feels really good about seeing what you are trying to teach somebody click. It’s kind of a trial and error game, you know you need to explain different things to different people different ways. When it clicks it’s really rewarding,” Steele Stephens said.
His father added, “Everybody in the industry if you ask them how did you get into flying. They have a story about the old guy who helped them, so I guess now I am the old guy.”
The team told MTN they hope to, in five years, own at least 10 airplanes and give back to the community. They hope to be able to mentor young pilots and provide a good service.
Reporting by Zoe Zandora for MTN News