Eleven-year-old Drew Neel knows a lot about flying. That’s mostly because he lives in Dayton, Ohio, a city known as the birthplace of aviation. Dayton is the hometown of two brothers, Wilbur and Orville Wright, who had much to do with the invention of the airplane. Dayton is the home of a huge flight museum, which Drew enjoys visiting. And Dayton is the home of Wright State University, which has a full-size replica of the Wright Brothers’ first aircraft hanging in its library. That model of the 1903 Wright Flyer was built with the help of Howard R. DuFour, a member of Drew’s ward.
Drew also knows a lot about flying right. That means doing what you’re supposed to do, heading in the right direction, and keeping out of trouble. He has learned about that mostly from his father, Trent; his mother, Valene; his sister Marie (16); and his brother, Kurtis (13). They love him and they help him live the gospel. Drew also knows a lot about flying right because of good leaders, teachers, and friends. He listens to them and learns from them. He says that what he’s learned about flying and what he’s learned about life have a lot in common.
“Life is kind of like a test flight,” Drew explains. “We’re trying to get back to heaven, and Heavenly Father has sent us here to see if we will do the right things so that we can return to live with Him. He wants to see if we’re trustworthy.”
And just as there are many things to help a pilot fly a plane, Drew says, there are lots of things to help you through life. “You have a flight plan,” he says. “It’s the scriptures. And prayer is like calling the control tower, asking for directions.”
He tells how he once built a hot-air balloon during a class visit to the flight museum. “We made it out of paper, then filled it with hot air and it flew!” he says. Through that activity, he learned about obedience. “The balloon works because hot air rises,” he says. “It’s a natural law.” And when laws are obeyed, whether they are laws of flight or laws of life, the obedience brings blessings.
Besides going to the flight museum, one of Drew’s favorite trips is to travel with his dad to visit Brother DuFour. He lives in a little town outside Dayton called New Carlisle, and his home is full of tools and working mechanical models. One of the main rooms of the house is not a bedroom or a kitchen, but a workshop. It’s right next to the living room as you come in the front door.
Brother DuFour has been working with machines since he was a boy. He enjoys showing Drew his models and talking to him about Charlie Taylor. Charlie was the chief mechanic for the Wright Brothers, and Brother DuFour did the research for a book about him.
“One of the reasons the Wright Brothers succeeded was that they had a good mechanic,” Brother DuFour says. “In the Church, when we talk to someone and get his or her advice, we call it counsel. The Wright Brothers would counsel with Charlie Taylor. They talked about their designs, and Charlie helped them figure out how to make things work.”
Brother DuFour also talks with Drew about finding his way in life. “The Holy Ghost will tell you whether you are right or not. If something is wrong, you won’t feel good about it. But if you do what’s right, then you’ll feel good.” That’s sort of like a flight indicator, the gauge that tells a pilot if he’s flying straight and level.
Now, just in case you think that all Drew is interested in is airplanes and machines, his parents are quick to point out some of his other interests. “He’s the comedian of the family,” his father says. “Sometimes at the dinner table, he makes me laugh so hard that I start to cry.”
He also likes to work with his dad. “He’s our great helper around the house. He’s always there by my side if there’s something that needs to be fixed,” Brother Neel says.
“He especially likes Cub Scouts,” his mother says, “and anything outside. He is always riding his bicycle, jumping on the trampoline, or rollerblading.”
And he is eager to call the “spiritual control tower.” “When we have family prayers,” his mother continues, “he’s always the first one there.” His father adds: “He’s very obedient and affectionate. He will come up to us to sit on a lap or get a hug.”
The Neels have been reading the scriptures in the morning as a family and studying the plan of salvation. That helps to strengthen Drew’s understanding of where he came from, why he is here, and where he is going. At one of those family discussions, his parents talked with him about a special experience that took place when he was born. “Just when you were getting here, there were problems,” his father explains. “But thanks to faith and a priesthood blessing, both you and your mother pulled through.”
If an airplane hits bumps or goes into a dive, the pilot must not panic. “You ask for help,” Drew’s father says. “Then you do what has to be done.”
Drew knows it’s just one more example of life and flying being alike. Yes, you can honestly say that Drew Neel knows a lot about flying. But even more important, he knows about flying right.