Program hopes to build self confidence, introduce St. Helena youth to careers in aviation
By Amy Coyne Bredeson
As a boy growing up on St. Helena Island, Harriston Holmes would often run outside or to the nearest window when he heard the engines of Beaufort County Mosquito Control’s DC-3 approaching.
Holmes was fascinated with aviation back then, and that fascination continues today. Now he is grown with a family of his own and wants to share the world of aviation with the next generation.
The 1997 Beaufort High School graduate returned home after earning his bachelor’s degree in health from Voorhees College. After coaching basketball for Lady’s Island Middle School and Beaufort County Parks and Leisure Services, Holmes realized he needed to make more money for his family. He thought back to when he was a kid and how much he loved watching the airplanes soar above his home.
“It rekindled an old flame of aircraft,” Holmes said.
He did some research and found the Aviation Institute of Maintenance in Duluth, Ga. He left for the suburb outside of Atlanta with nothing but $60, three pairs of jeans and the vehicle he drove.
Holmes worked at temp agencies and warehouses to pay the bills while earning an Airframe and Powerplant certification, as well as an FCC radar endorsed license.
Holmes began his career working on commercial jets with Express Jet Airlines at Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport. He now works as an FAA designated inspector of aircraft for DonB Aircraft International at Beaufort Executive Airport.
Working in the field of aviation has afforded Holmes opportunities he never imagined. He has traveled to Kuwait and Iraq to do contract work on commercial, luxury and military aircraft. He has met people from different cultures and experienced things he would not have otherwise experienced if it weren’t for his career. He is also able to support his family and live comfortably.
Sharing the passion
In March 2021, Holmes created the nonprofit Altitude Academy to introduce local youth to the unlimited opportunities in aerospace.
“I believe the youth deserve to know what is out there for them at an early age,” Holmes said. “The sooner the better. And aerospace will benefit too.”
When Beaufort Aviation Association president James Atkins learned about The Altitude Academy, he reached out to Holmes. Lockheed Martin had given the Aviation Association a $10,000 grant, and Atkins realized that the academy’s objectives matched those of the association. So the two joined forces to launch a program called Beaufort Youth in Aviation.
The Aviation Association committed the grant money to the program, which will introduce young people to the aviation industry and all it has to offer. The program is open to children, ages 7-17; however, exceptions to the age limit may be made on an individual basis.
Participants will learn about the various careers in aerospace, including commercial and military flying, air traffic control, airplane maintenance, drone aircraft operations and engineering. They will visit Lockheed Martin in Beaufort and Greenville, Boeing in Charleston, Gulfstream in Savannah and Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort.
The first class
The program already has 37 participants. The first event was held in November in Summerville, where four young people were taught the fundamentals of aviation and given introductory flights.
Harold Scott, Jr., a 12 year old from Beaufort, had never flown before that day. He had always wondered how it would feel.
The Whale Branch Elementary School 6th-grader was a bit scared during takeoff and landing, but he said flying was actually peaceful, and a lot of fun. He even got to steer the plane.
Harold is excited to learn more about aviation and can’t wait for his next chance to fly.
“I just love the fact that you can see everything from that high,” Scott said.
Julius Reid of Beaufort also got to try his hand at flying that day in Summerville. The 21-year-old is a nephew of Holmes, who invited him to join the program.
Reid has seen his uncle’s success in aviation and is now hoping to pursue a career in either aircraft maintenance or design.
Atkins said there is a huge worldwide shortage of pilots, air traffic controllers and other aviation workers.
“Any woman or man who successfully accepts the challenge of becoming a pilot can make hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, and enjoy a very rewarding and stimulating career,” he said. “Many young people can, with confidence in themselves and with hard work, become a commercial pilot or a maintainer of aircraft. Their realization of this is the objective of the Beaufort Youth in Aviation Program.”
Atkins knew at age 5 or 6 that he wanted to be a fighter pilot. After he graduated from college, he achieved that dream through the Marine Corps. After serving in the Marines, Atkins was an airline pilot for five years, then worked in the aircraft development and manufacturing industry, working his way up to a CEO position. After he retired, Atkins created the local aviation association and Beaufort Flight Training to share his love of aviation with others.
“You have to have this motivation instilled in you when you’re young,” Atkins said. “It’s a lot of hard work, and you have to really be motivated. You’ve got to believe in yourself. And what we’re trying to do is help these kids believe in themselves, understand the opportunities that are out there and be consistent in all the disciplines required to reach these life goals.”
Atkins and Holmes are seeking the support of the community, as well. The Community Foundation of the Lowcountry has a fund set up for the program. To donate, visit https://cflowcountry.civicore.com/nonprofits and scroll down to “Beaufort Aviation Friends Fund.”
For more information on Beaufort Youth in Aviation, text 843-812-9909 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.