Control of events from a distance is a power that thrills. Controlling a buzzing little
object flying around high above the fields is a pleasure that radio operators enjoy. At
SJH the chemistry and mechanics teacher, Brother Paul Koller, was an enthusiastic model
airplane builder. He was of the scientific mental type who quickly agreed to the Radio
Club’s idea of radio controlling model airplanes.
This led to thinking of the benefits of aviation – piloting real airplanes – to which
students might be introduced, and which would acquaint them with just one more future
career opportunity. So Paul Kollar and Mike Stimac began to plan and plot. The idea grew
into a course offering a class after school hours, which would study the physics of airplanes, and
provide pilot ground school training . . .
Typical of boundless imagination, the two teachers went to Lost Nation Airport, in
Willoughby, Ohio, and proposed bringing the students out there. The boys would walk
around the aircraft, or maybe go up on demonstration flights.
Mr. McNeely, the airport director, squashed the idea promptly. But good hearted person
that he was, he proposed that Mike would learn to fly and then he and Paul could go
airborne with the aviation class.
Bill McNeely had a promotional activity subsidized by Cessna Corporation which ran a
sort of flying club for future buyers of their Cessna’s. This club necessitated an entrance
fee of $500. As with all Radio Club projects, obstacles merely required imagination, and
in this case, a grateful friend who had been assisted with his boat radio problem (by the Radio Club guys, drew on
his company account and paid Mr. McNeely the $500. So really, Mazi, Marsey, Kulwin, Kuzmic,
Kozar, Leskovec, Cegelski, Miller – many of whom who had worked on the clandestine 250 watt amplifier
for Mr. Swetel’s boat, enabled the aviation program to become airborne.
Mike settled down to the flight training and in September of that year qualified for his
pilot license. The availability of airplanes was unbelievable – especially by today’s
standards of $80 or $100 hourly rental cost. In McNeely’s club, the SJH aviation
students flew for $7 an hour!
The aviation class was charged a $20 lab fee. Since the airplane could carry a group of 3
students, the fees of 3 students allowed that little team to be airborne for almost 9 hours –
which added up to journeys totaling a 1000 miles. Suddenly flights to Niagara or Elmira
in New York, or the museums of Chicago by Lakefront airport were easily done within a
couple of hours. Soon even girls’ schools like Nazareth were arranging flights and all of
this led to hundreds of column inches of great newspaper stories of the classroom in the
But Mike now being fully qualified to fly brought about an abrupt change, because this
new skill, added to his ham-radio, electronic, and mechanical skills, made him invaluable
to the missions in Africa.
The students at the old Radio Club had to now fend for themselves when Mike went to Africa.
But the influence of the SJHRC did not
stop. Mike flew occasionally during the first year when he became aware of the
tremendous waste of highly educated doctors, teachers and other stranded in the wilds of
Africa. He organized a flight service to help these people, and many families in the states
joined the effort. They formed a tax-exempt foundation called by the unwieldy name
"United Missionary Aviation Training and Transport"– UMATT for short. In a year or
two Mike was serving 140 bush locations and UMATT had received 8 airplanes for the
project. The Society of Mary supplied the organizational channels for this help to reach
Mike stayed with the flying for almost 15 years, sometime spending 12 hours of a day in
the African skies. Vaccines were delivered, victims of lion attacks and car accidents were
rushed out the bush to Nairobi hospitals, doctors, nurses and teachers were rotated in and
out of trackless bush locations and volunteers came and went, keeping the operation
One such group was Austrian. Their government developed an appreciation for the
project which resulted in their taking it over for their Peace-Corp-type of work in Africa.
At this point Mike was no longer essential to the operation. Coincidentally, he was
visited by representatives of the Saudi Arabian Airlines who wanted him to come to
Jeddah, on the Red Sea, and manage their flight training. Once
before, Mike had landed there for fuel while he and a new pilot delivered two airplanes
from Shannon, Ireland to Nairobi, Kenya. The event had not been forgotten. In Jeddah a
warm welcome took place, and ten happy years of working with the Arabs followed.
This included, of all things, coming back to the United States to manage some of their
interests in Texas, and the occasional chance to get back up to Ohio to visit relatives and
members of the old radio club.
Back in the states by the 1980’s, Mike got to fly a bit each month, but the crowded skies
and pilots, commercial and private, who know all the rules but unfortunately have had so
little opportunity for experiences, made flying less of an adventure than that of the
African bush or the Arabian deserts. These days, the soaring cost of aircraft fuel, and
high cost of rental make it beyond reach for most people to fly, let alone own aircraft for
any but serious business purposes.