When Patrick Mendonca was in elementary school, he had his sights set on possibly becoming a paleontologist. He began to lose interest when he realized the importance of finding a career that he could really connect with. Patrick notes, “Others’ passion for [their careers] didn’t really spark my interest; nobody had passion for what they did. In fourth grade I had a friend whose mom was a pilot and she just had so much passion that it inspired me and reminded me of [my future path]. I really got into [aviation] and started going to museums and I fell in love with it.”
With the help of his own mother who’s an airline employee, Patrick started networking with other airline employees and pilots in his local area. Through that network, a United Airlines employee who also flew gliders recommended that Patrick visit the Black Forest Soaring Society (BFSS) based at Kelly Airpark in Colorado and take a discovery flight. So, a couple of summers ago, he did just that.
“I remember that first flight being really hard and challenging and I really liked that. I came back down and told my mom and she said this is definitely the place for you.”
One of those connections that Patrick made turned out to be a man named Steve Johnson, who was a member of Black Forest. Although Steve has since passed on, Patrick recounts the immense impact Steve had on him and his introduction to flying gliders. “He was one of the people that really helped me get into the club. He would tell me what things were going on during the weekends and would always ask me, ‘When are you joining the Club? When are you joining the Club?’”
Like many young people trying to break into aviation, money was a concern. Patrick overcame this obstacle by engaging in a sort of work-study arrangement with the soaring club; helping around the hangar and acting as wing walker in order to pay his way. This show of dedication and tenacity did not go unnoticed. Along the way, the support given to Patrick left an indelible mark. “For a solid four or five months I was just out there holding wings and cutting grass and I eventually got into the club with an initiation fee waiver – which is pretty cool!”
If he had been looking for a career path that he could get passionate about, Patrick has certainly found it. He soloed the Blanik at Kelly Airpark on January 3, 2021. Patrick recalls the experience of solo flight and looking down and seeing the other aircraft in the pattern. His family was there at the field to support him; a day none of them will soon forget!
Patrick considers his CFI, Raul to be probably the best teacher he’s ever had in his life. “He’s a great instructor and we get along really well. I feel safe flying with him and I feel like he could get us out of almost any situation.” Another member, Andy, is an aerobatics instructor in gliders. Patrick has had the good fortune of flying with him in the club’s MDM-1 Fox. He enjoys executing snap rolls, loops, low passes, and flying inverted.
Since soloing, Patrick has been strongly considering a path to the Air Force Academy or ROTC. “I’ve started my application to the Academy. I have some friends there who tell me the workload is insanely hard and you have zero free time. I’ve heard from a lot of other people that ROTC is another way to go if you don’t want to have that workload. So, I’m going to apply for the academy but ROTC is also looking good too.”
Do a Good Turn Daily
Consider the exclusive community of glider pilots in the United States. Now, imagine how many of them are also Eagle Scouts. Patrick will be checking off both of those boxes in short order. Only four percent of Scouts earn the coveted Eagle rank. Many have gone on to become astronauts, presidents, and CEO’s. Before the end of the summer, Patrick hopes to count himself among that small group of leaders. In order to reach the pinnacle, Patrick must complete his Eagle Project. He knew he had to some up with a way to give back to the soaring club that had given so much to him.
“I think the thing that got me into gliders most was not actually the gliders, it was the community,” He says. “If it wasn’t for the community, I wouldn’t be flying. I really enjoy talking to people out there. They have loads of experience and are really interesting people.”
It makes sense that Patrick has chosen to give back to the soaring community by resurfacing the walkway between the club parking lot and the clubhouse. The plan should take a full weekend in May and will involve moving 28 tons of dirt; several Scouts will be there to help but the young glider pilot will be leading the charge. Patrick has started a GoFundMe campaign to finance the project. As of the time of this writing, the fund is just a few hundred dollars shy of the $2000 goal. The link to the campaign can be found here.
The late Steve Johnson would most certainly be proud of Patrick’s flying progress and future status as an Eagle Scout. It wasn’t long ago that he was gently guiding Patrick’s path to join BFSS. Now, Patrick is doing the same for others – making those last few steps to the club easier for his fellow aviators. In a sort of symbolic poetry, the walkway when finished, will guide present and future pilots to the building now named the Steve Johnson Clubhouse.