Taking the Time to Give Back: Donovan Burns uses his flight expertise to train aspiring pilots

Donovan Burns has had a love affair with flight since early childhood. Pursuing a career in flight has enabled him to pursue several exciting careers, including piloting patrol planes for the U.S. navy, flight instructing for the New Zealand Air Force, and performing search and rescue missions for the U.S. Coast Guard. He is now a Los Angeles-based 757 First Officer.

Donovan is an avid antique airplane pilot, and enjoys the rewards of flying tailwheel equipped airplanes.

Donovan is an avid antique airplane pilot, and enjoys the rewards of flying tailwheel equipped airplanes.

Burns first flew as a 13-year-old boy in Maryland. He credits a group of private donors affiliated with the Civil Air Patrol, a non-profit auxiliary of the Air Force, with launching his career. Their scholarship contributions made his high school flying aspirations as reality. With generous financial backing, he earned a private pilot certificate prior to college.

“I am a product of aviation outreach, for sure,” he says. Burns joined the Navy ROTC program at Hampton University with intentions of becoming a Naval Aviator. Majoring in Flight Education, he continued his training, acquiring the necessary certificates and ratings to become a flight instructor. Summer breaks were spent working at the airport, loading bags, servicing lavatories, and cleaning airliners.

Upon graduation, Burns was commissioned as an Ensign in the U.S. Navy. He drew upon his prior flying experience and guidance from mentors to earn his desired assignment with a patrol plane squadron in Jacksonville, FL. In this capacity, Burns participated in airborne surveillance and anti-submarine warfare missions. Overseas deployments provided travel opportunities to the Mediterranean, Central and South America, the Caribbean, and Europe. During his last tour with the Navy, Burns lectured aerodynamics and taught Student Naval officers how to fly.

After leaving the Navy, Burns joined the Royal New Zealand Air Force. He completed the Flying Instuctors Course and served as a Pilot Training Squadron instructor.

Donovan Burns, (above right) with one of his Royal New Zealand Air Force students after a successful training flight.

Donovan Burns, (above right) with one of his Royal New Zealand Air Force students after a successful training flight.

Midway through his tour, Burns was handpicked to fly with the Red Checkers formation aerobatic display team. He says this opportunity was “definitely the biggest flying adventure of my life.”
“I couldn’t believe I was able to fly in the demo team and be in the formation loop just feet away from other airplanes… [with] a crowd of 50,000 people looking at me,” he says. “I just never thought that would happen in my life!”

Following that experience, Burns returned stateside and served five and a half years with the U.S. Coast Guard. While based in Miami, he performed law enforcement, search-and-rescue, and environmental protection missions. Once his stint with the Coast Guard was complete, he was hired to fly for a legacy U.S. airline, a position he says has been his “dream job.” Burns regularly criss-crosses the country, flying routes from L.A. to New York, as well as other major airports.

Donovan has had the good fortune to fly WWII Warbirds, such as this AT-6 Texan based in Torrance, California

Donovan has had the good fortune to fly WWII Warbirds, such as this AT-6 Texan based in Torrance, California

Burns has a passion to inspire and train today’s youth to achieve their dreams. He says when he was growing up, flying channeled his energies toward a goal requiring hard work and focus to obtain.

“It allowed me to stay away from distractions,” he says. “It taught me patience and discipline, definitely.”

Burns, with Torrance High School students Mary and Claire

Burns, with Torrance High School students Mary and Claire

When he’s not flying airliners, Burns serves as a flight instructor for Giving Kids Wings Flight Academy. Increases in fuel prices, liability insurance, and other factors have made flying cost prohibitive for many. Burns’ work with GKWFA allows young people to experience the joy of flight at a reduced cost, relieving the financial burden of flight training and allowing them to pursue their dreams of joining the ranks of professional pilots.

Burns shakes the hand of another Torrance Unified student, after an introductory flight.

Burns shakes the hand of another Torrance Unified student, after an introductory flight.

“With a higher barrier of entry, it’s mandatory for pilots who’ve already gotten in and gotten established in their career, to reach back and help somebody up that boarding ladder,” he says. “We cannot leave the boarding ladder behind us.”

Please support Donovan Burns and his fellow volunteers at GKWFA as they train the next generation of pilots.
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