After flying B-25s, B-24s, and B-29s during World War II, Lester Zinser received a Master of Education with an emphasis on human factors from the University of Illinois. In the fall of 1957, Lester arrived at WMU assuming the role as the aviation program’s first Chief Flight Instructor. With only a pot belly stove in his office, Lester began his WMU influence teaching 12 students and flying three Piper J5s out of the Plainwell airport. Under Lester’s guidance, the program grew, eventually moving to Kalamazoo’s airport. In addition, Lester served as the Sky Broncos coach from 1958 to 1966, taking the team to many air meets and earning numerous awards. In 1966, Lester joined the National Center for Atmospheric Research where his flying skills enabled researchers to study a variety of weather situations, including small volcanic eruptions and pre-hurricane conditions. Lester’s hard work, dedication and guidance helped to lay the foundation for the university’s Flight Science Program.
Ron Sackett graduated from WMU in 1959 with a Bachelor of Science in Air Transportation. He taught secondary education for three years and then worked as a technical writer for Lear Siegler in Grand Rapids, MI. Ron returned to WMU in 1966 as an instructor in the Transportation Technology Department and was promoted to Assistant Professor in 1972. He was appointed as the Coordinator of Flight Instruction in 1973, a position he maintained until his retirement from WMU in 1999. Ron was selected as the FAA Grand Rapids Accident Prevention Counselor of the Year in 1979, and in 1987 he was selected as the FAA District and Regional Flight Instructor of the Year. Ron skillfully incorporated and shared his passion for aviation with students throughout his career at WMU. Ron also conducted numerous check rides as an FAA Designated Pilot Examiner well into his retirement.
Larry Hoikka left his small town of Crystal Falls, MI. in 1958 to attend the WMU Aircraft Maintenance Technology program in the big city of Kalamazoo. He earned his Airframe and Powerplant certificate in 1961 and soon began repairing and inspecting airplanes for local fixed base operators. In 1965, after serving in the Coast Guard, Larry began working for WMU as the aviation program’s chief mechanic. Over his 30 years of service, Larry established and maintained an outstanding aircraft safety record. As a student he was a member of the Sky Broncos and later served as the precision flight team’s coach, leading it to a National Championship in 1983. Larry also taught classes for both pilot and mechanic students. He personified reliability, top-quality performance and served as a mentor and inspiration to all those who worked for him or with him.
Jeff Haney graduated from WMU in 2002 as a standout member of the Sky Broncos Precision Flight Team. During his four years on the flight team, he earned numerous individual honors including Top Pilot in the region in 2001. In his senior year, Jeff was a team captain and voted outstanding team member while leading the Sky Broncos to their 2002 National Championship. Jeff served as a flight instructor for WMU before his acceptance into the United States Air Force for pilot training in 2003. Jeff received two Distinguished Graduate awards during USAF pilot training in addition to numerous other honors and distinctions. His superior skills and accomplishments earned Jeff coveted selections to fly both the F-15C Eagle and F-22 Raptor, two of the USAF’s top fighter aircraft. Jeff has exhibited exemplary leadership, character, integrity, and dedication to both WMU and his country. His lead-by-example manner, positive attitude and welcoming personality make him a respected and inspiring role model.