By Todd Travis
Hailing from a small city called Eleanor, Ind. (about 900 people there at the time), Roger Tomey, director of the Aeronautical Center of Technology, has led anything but a small life. He moved to Indianapolis at age 5 and graduated from Southport High School. From there he joined the Air Force and served in Okinawa during the Vietnam War as a survival instructor.
After getting out of the Air Force in 1972, Tomey moved back to Indianapolis and began working at the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad while attending night classes at IUPUI. He was promoted to a position in Cincinnati with a company called Chessie System which later became CSX Corporation. He was promoted again to their first computerized yard as a car supervisor. He eventually made his way back to Indianapolis and stayed with CSX for 21 years and then worked for Amtrak for three years.
An unexpected blow
In his third year at Amtrak he was involved in an accident where someone turned the power on while he was working on the car.
“It blew me across the car – I was in a dining car which is stainless steel. While I was in the hospital, they went in to see how bad the damage was, and I got a virus in my system which caused me to be paralyzed from the waist down for three months,” Tomey shared.
“It took me about a year to recover, and I had to learn to walk again. That’s when the railroad told me to just take my retirement and don’t come back,” he continued.
The beginnings of a dream
Tomey didn’t let this incident define him. Instead he took it as an opportunity and decided to pursue a passion for flying that he had since he was a kid. He learned to fly at Indy South Greenwood Airport and finished his degree in labor relations at Indiana University. Finally being able to achieve one of his lifelong dreams, he started to think about how he might be able to help others do the same.
“I thought, there must be other kids just like me who have got the desire but not the means to do it and I’d like to see what I may be able to do to help them,” Tomey remembered.
At that time, he and a couple other people got together and filed with the national EAA (Experimental Aircraft Association) to have a chapter. They were chartered in 2002 as Chapter 1354, with the goal of getting kids involved with aviation. From that program, they expanded into the Young Eagles program, which gives kids ages 8-17 free airplane rides. The education they have been providing was a useful tool in partnering with schools and a very important measure to help with the predicted pilot shortage the country is facing.
“Aviation is a great way to show the practical application to the STEM disciplines,” Tomey pointed out.
Aeronautical Center for Technology
At one point, the mayor of Greenwood approached Tomey and told him about a couple guys who wanted to build an education center to help strengthen the program. That became the start of the Aeronautical Center for Technology. They are currently partnering with Roncalli High School and several other school corporations around the Greenwood area to boost STEM skills and provide practical application for those skills as they pursue careers in aviation.
The Aeronautical Center for Technology is a 501(c)(3) that is helping to fulfill Tomey’s dream to teach kids about aviation and to open opportunities for kids who couldn’t otherwise afford it. Their Elite Private Pilot Program allows high school students to receive their FAA single engine private pilot certification before graduating high school. Currently, A.C.T. is looking for sponsors, donations and partnerships so that they can continue to grow and reach even more young people in the Greenwood and surrounding area. Their goal is to have the absolute highest quality facility for training including flight simulators and even their own aircraft. If you’re interested in enrolling, donating or partnering you can call 317-851-5245 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. You can view their website aerotechcenter.org.
Tomey has done so much to make his hometown of Eleanor proud. The A.C.T. is his dream realized – making a pathway for other young people to pursue and achieve their dreams.
Fun Facts about Roger Tomey:
Roger has a fear of the unknown. When he reads a book, he goes to the last chapter and reads it first.
Roger loves to do woodworking as a hobby. He’s built chess boards and cabinets among other things.
Roger has a huge weakness for sweets – he’s a self-proclaimed “sugarholic.”
Roger’s favorite vacation spot is the Grand Canyon.