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Catholic Aviation Association seeks to build, evangelize aviation world

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By Natalie Hoefer Catholic News Service

NOBLESVILLE, Ind. (CNS) — In the dark of night over the Mediterranean Sea, the F-4 fighter jet was having problems.

“We didn’t know if we could get the aircraft back to the carrier,” recalled Thomas “Wulf” Beckenbauer, who was riding in the rear seat as the radio intercept officer.

“The pilot called back to me, ‘OK, Wulf, you need to start praying for us because I’m having a lot of trouble up here.’

“So I’m in the back praying for him to have the wisdom and the skill to land. We finally landed, and he said, ‘OK, God, I can take it from here.’ We knew it was only by God’s grace that we were able to get back and land.”

Faith and aviation have formed the fabric of most of Beckenbauer’s life.

Beckenbauer and his wife, Joy, now hope to evangelize and build the aviation community through their recently launched Catholic Aviation Association. They see the organization eventually providing a way for people interested in learning to fly to do so economically.

Unlike other aviation organizations, their association includes a faith focus, encouraging members to live Christ-centered lives.

For Beckenbauer, starting the Indianapolis-based group is the latest chapter in a life journey that led him to his wife, his Catholic faith and the new endeavor.

A member of St. Maria Goretti Parish in Westfield, Beckenbauer admitted he was not always faith-filled.

“But once I decided to turn my life over to God and make him my number one priority, I went in search of the best way to do that, to find the truth,” he told The Criterion, newspaper of the Indianapolis Archdiocese.

His search for truth led to an unexpected destination: marriage. He met Joy in 1990 while taking a class on the Old Testament at Regent University in Virginia Beach, Virginia, where she was assistant director of admissions. They got married in 1992.

Beckenbauer retired from the Navy in 1995. He taught and worked with the Navy Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps in California and then was flight operations manager for Federal Express for a decade. All along, the couple continued searching for “the truth” of God.

One night, when the Beckenbauers were members of the Episcopal Church, Joy Beckenbauer was watching “The Journey Home” on the Eternal Word Television Network.

“They happened to have an Episcopal priest talking about his journey to the Catholic faith,” she said.

“I sat up in bed and said, ‘Oh, no, Lord! You’re not calling us to be Catholic, are you?'”

In 2005, the Beckenbauers were received into the Catholic Church.

By that time, the couple had moved to Indianapolis where Beckenbauer worked for Federal Express. He later was given the task of laying off an entire division — then was laid off himself at 59.

Beckenbauer started praying about life’s next step and his desire to combine his faith life with his love for aviation.

“I was praying in the adoration chapel. I looked up, and I saw an airplane go by, and I heard the Lord say, ‘Well, why don’t you do both? Use aviation to teach people about life and life’s lessons.'” he recalled.

The idea made more sense to Beckenbauer as he considered a troublesome trend in aviation.

“It’s gotten so expensive to fly,” he explained. “And the pilot population … is all hitting retirement. So there’s a huge shortage of pilots and not enough young people getting into it. If you go to college to get a degree in aviation, you’ll spend $100,000 — that’s just to fly. Then there’s another $50,000 for your education.

“So you’ve got significant debt. The way the airline pay structure is, it’s just not really possible to support yourself and a family,” he said.

The solution, he said, is to make learning how to fly less costly.

The Catholic Aviation Association’s structure involves chapters and flying clubs comprising people experienced or interested in aviation. The organization’s leadership, headquarters, clubs and chapters will be Catholic, but membership is open to all people of faith.

The goal is for chapter members to support each other through prayer and discussion at meetings, grow in faith and aviation knowledge, and participate in social activities, in line with its motto of “Faith, Flying and Fellowship.

Beckenbauer envisions the organization eventually purchasing planes and leasing them to the chapters, or “Cupertino Clubs.” They’re named for St. Joseph of Cupertino, who was known to levitate while in prayer or at Mass.

The first Cupertino Club started in the fall at St. Theodore Guerin High School in Noblesville, where 17 students meet weekly for prayer and to learn about flying.

Beckenbauer stressed that there is a connection between the natural laws of physics that govern flying and “God’s law that affects how you live your life.”

When flying, pilots must follow Federal Aviation Administration regulations for safety reasons and likewise, he explained, “If you get outside of God’s guidelines and laws, including the magisterium and catechism, you can make bad choices that hurt your life.”

The website www.catholicaviation.org offers prayer resources, including “Daily Pre-flight” and “Daily Post-flight” checklists.

With their first chapter and Cupertino Club in place, the Catholic Aviation Association is looking to expand. But running the organization has become almost a full-time job for the couple.

To accomplish their goal of expanding and purchasing planes to lease, the Beckenbauers have launched a “3-3-3” fundraising campaign: $3,000 for the Guerin Cupertino Club, $30,000 to hire a part-time assistant and support six months of headquarter operations, and $300,000 to cover another year of operating costs and obtain an airplane.

With a plane to lease, the association will be better able to keep existing pilots flying, bring young people into aviation and help rebuild the pilot population, Beckenbauer said.

Posted March 9, 2015

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