For Daniel Tou, it’s been a bit of a dream summer.
As an intern with Cessna Aircraft’s Discover Flying Challenge program, he travels across the country every day in a Cessna 172 Skyhawk plane, helping other people find a passion for what he loves.
The program is an effort by Cessna to inspire interest in private, general aviation, Cessna officials said.
Tou made a stop in Wichita on Saturday at Jabara Airport and did “discovery flights” with Wichitans, where he essentially took people up in the air and gave them a short demonstration of what it’s like to be a pilot.
“Just to see the laughs and smiles on their faces when they take off is great,” Tou said. “A lot of them sign up for flight lessons immediately after they get off.”
After a few weeks of basic training in Wichita, Cessna interns were released to the open skies. Each of six interns covers a different geographic region of the United States, putting on events almost daily in their selected region.
It is the interns’ job to find lodging and meals every night and to keep expense reports of everything they buy. The pilots keep in touch with each other throughout the summer via group text messaging, but other than that, they’re pretty much on their own, Tou said.
“You always need to monitor yourself,” Tou said. “You can’t let the fun overwhelm you.”
Tou, who is originally from Macau, China, studied aeronautical science at LeTourneau University in Longview, Texas. For the summer, he’s covering the south-central region of the United States, which includes Kansas.
Cessna chose eight interns for the Discover Flying Challenge program this summer, including one from Wichita State University. Six of the interns fly across the country. The other two are based in Wichita and serve as schedulers and dispatchers for the other six, said Lindsay Adrian, a communications manager for Textron Aviation.
The program is atypical from a traditional summer internship program, said Keven Lenahan, an intern pilot covering the north-central region of the U.S.
“It’s totally unlike anything else,” Lenahan said. “It’s definitely a vacation, but it’s a job at the same time.”
Lenahan, who came to the program as an engineering student at Stanford University, said the experience has changed his opinion about flying. He said he has been flying since he was 14 but always did it in his “hobby time.”
As he approaches his senior year at Stanford, Lenahan said, he is considering whether to pursue engineering or an aviation-based career.
“It’s the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done, basically,” Lenahan said. “The skills it teaches you, you can use anywhere.”
Adrian said the goal of the program is not only to interest the public in aviation but also to teach the intern pilots safe aviation rules.
“Safety is always at the core of this program,” Adrian said.
For example, Tou said he had to cancel an event he had planned in Chicago because storm patterns were blocking his path to the city.
“It’s been a really good opportunity for me to make decisions on the road,” Tou said. “If you learn how to make a good decision as a pilot, you’re a better pilot.”
Tou said he will miss this “dream summer” when it’s over, but he’s not worried. He said he hopes he will have a future in aviation soon, having recently graduated from LeTourneau.
“It’s opened my mind to everything you can do,” he said. “Once you’ve tried the taste of flying, whenever you walk on the Earth, you always set your eyes to the sky.”