OSHKOSH -- Sean D. Tucker is wedging a large chunk of time into his schedule to head up EAA’s Young Eagles introduction to flight program. His schedule already is squeezed with three aerobatic flight routine practices per day, intense weight training 340 days per year and strictly enforced rest periods to prevent fatigue. The star airshow performer, U.S. National Advanced Aerobatic Champion and National Aviation Hall of Fame honoree explained why he took on the added commitment.

“Young Eagles is our greatest aviation outreach program. We want to get kids into aviation at an early age. When [EAA chairman] Jack Pelton asked me do to this, I could not say no. This is my payback for living in America. Our goal for 2014 to 2015 is to spread the word at every airshow venue,” Tucker says.

This is not “an honorary position” he says. It requires both time and money to lead the Young Eagles program. “This program has been going on for 20+ years and we’ve had 1.8-million people participate. What an honor it is to speak for all our volunteers. I’m not a celebrity in the real world like Cliff Robertson, Chuck Yeager, Harrison Ford or Sully Sullenberger and Jeff Skiles. I grew up in Salinas [California] as a crop duster,” he explains regarding his predecessors who ran the Young Eagles program.

Tucker says he owes a big debt to EAA. “I’ve largely defined myself through the friendships I’ve developed at EAA, including Charlie Hilliard, Bob Hoover and Gene Soucy.”

“Paul Poberezny invited me to perform 24 years ago. EAA people have guided me and mentored me throughout my career, helping me to be a success.” Tucker especially looks forward to attending EAA’s annual Gathering of Eagles fundraiser for the program because he gets to tell the Young Eagles story and he personally gets to “thank all those generous people” who help to sponsor the Young Eagles program.

Tucker leads by example. “This is very dangerous business. There is no room for complacency, no room for rusty skills, no room for ego. You’re there to share the flight with your audience, as many as five million in a single year, including 650,000 in New York and one million in Chicago. Bob Hoover told me that one accident will take away all their dreams. You can inspire them or traumatize them.”

He takes every possible precaution to assure robust safety margins. He has three skilled mechanics who care for his aircraft at every venue. All the fabric is torn off his airplane each year during the off season so that the tube frame can be thoroughly inspected. The aircraft then is re-covered with new fabric and it’s given a fresh coat of paint.

Engines are overhauled at 300-hour intervals and oil changes are performed every ten hours. He practices 128 times before appearing in his first airshow of the year. You won’t see Tucker at any of the familiar watering holes in Oshkosh. He retires early and works on getting a full night’s rest so that he can perform well for the entire week.

“AirVenture moves me, it motivates me, but it leaves me exhausted. I want to be around to see the 2-millionth Young Eagle fly.”

Tucker now is extending his commitment to involving young people in aviation beyond Young Eagles. Partly with the backing of Millennium Labs’ Jim Slattery and Hartzell’s Jim Brown and partly by selling $1,000 charity rides in his North American AT-6, he’s started the “Every Kid Can Fly” program that specifically targets at risk youth in the Salinas area. About 72 percent of the population is Hispanic and there are “large gang problems”.

“I started ‘Every Kid Can Fly’ because your dreams should be valid whether you’re rich or poor. We have the first seven kids, all of whom were on probation, really troubled kids. We have one kid who was shot three times, another whose mother is a meth head. They’re all off probation now, working toward their GEDs.” Tucker said some of the kids can’t go back to public high schools because they’ve renounced their former gang affiliations. Breaking a gang affiliation can be a fatal decision.

“Kids are redefining themselves through flight.” He said Every Kid Can Fly also involves 900 hours of STEM education to give kids better odds of finding good jobs when they graduate.

“You’re not relevant unless you’re giving back to the community,” he says. “I want to be remembered as a guy with passion, conviction and purpose.”