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Principal Overcomes Fear of Flying While Rewarding Students

(The Times photo courtesy of Betsy Reason)
Pilot and retired Noblesville math teacher Larry Jacobi prepares Promise Road Elementary principal Christy Martino – giving a thumbs up — just before takeoff in Jacobi’s World War II Stearman biplane for a flyover for students on Thursday, celebrating reaching a $25,000 school fundraising goal.

Promise Road Elementary School students enjoyed a special treat, originally scheduled for Halloween day, thanks to Noblesville airplane pilot and retired teacher Larry Jacobi who arranged rides in two World War II Stearman biplanes for the school’s principal and assistant principal on Thursday afternoon.

The treat was flying tight over the school so that the students could see the airplanes carrying the two school officials, Promise Road Principal Christy Martino and Assistant Principal Billy Fama.

Jacobi, who’s been flying airplanes for 53 years, was happy to do a flyover for the kids in his U.S. Army blue and yellow open-cockpit 1941 Stearman two-seater biplane PT-17, that was used for training in World War II. Hence, the front seat for passengers.

The planes took off from the nearby grass runway at Noblesville Airport, which Jacobi co-owns, and then the planes flew over the elementary school three times. The flight was originally planned for Halloween, but the threat of rain caused a weather delay.

Jacobi said when he was contacted by the school principal seeking a unique way to reward the school’s 750 students for reaching a schoolwide fundraising goal, he was glad to oblige. The students raised a total of $25,000 in a fun run the Friday before fall break at the school and will use the money to buy new playground equipment, shade structures and soccer goals.

(The Times photo courtesy of Betsy Reason)
Promise Road Elementary principal Christy Martino flies front-seat passenger with Noblesville pilot and retired teacher Larry Jacobi in a U.S. Army World War II Stearman (left), and assistant principal Billy Fama flies with pilot Trip Kelleher of Westfield in a U.S. Navy Stearman (right) during a flyover for students on Thursday, celebrating reaching a $25,000 school fundraising goal.

On Thursday afternoon, the two Stearman biplanes were parked on the airport grass, and their pilots — Jacobi and Trip Kelleher of Westfield — were ready and waiting when the school principals arrived at 1:30 p.m., just 20 minutes before takeoff.

“I am terrified but also super excited,” Martino said.

And the students? “They cannot wait,” she said, sharing that her Promise Road students would be “all out back, behind the school,” watching for the flyover.

How did this all come about? “We were looking for something super exciting for the kids,” said Martino, who with Fama brainstormed for reward ideas and met safety educators and Jacobi.

“He’s great with getting involved in the community and the school,” Martino said of Jacobi.

The airplane rides were finalized just before Noblesville Schools’ fall break when the administrators, both in their first year at Promise Road,  learned that the school had reached its fundraising goal. “We thought we’d go big,” she said.

“We were able to tie it into perseverance and strength and determination, which were the goals of the fundraiser,” as the principals shared with their students about how worried they were to go up in the airplanes, said Martino, who is enjoying her first year working for Noblesville Schools.

(The Times photo courtesy of Betsy Reason)
Promise Road Elementary assistant principal Billy Fama rides front-seat passenger in a U.S. Navy Stearman that made a full loop with the plane inverted during a flyover for students on Thursday afternoon.

“I’m just really hopeful you see us again in 15 minutes,” Fama said just before getting into the plane. It’s his first year as an administrator who came from teaching at Noble Crossing Elementary, and North Elementary before that.

The mom climbed up into the passenger seat of the airplane, strapped herself in and put on her goggles, and gave a “thumb’s up,” as photos were snapped.

Martino’s two greatest fears — of heights and of flying in small aircrafts — were met head on during this brief flight.

“Her biggest fear is small aircrafts,” said the principal’s husband, Kevin Martino who — with their three children, Brayden, 7, Morgan, 9, and Avery, 7, and Martino’s mom, Chris Culen, from Chicago (Martino’s hometown) — all watched as the airplanes taxied to the runway, readying for takeoff, then flew over the elementary and returned, landing back on the ground by 2:10 p.m.

“It was so fun. I wasn’t scared literally at all,” Martino said after the flight.

She loved the airplane ride, and she felt at ease as Jacobi pointed out sights in Noblesville as they flew over the city, and talked through every move, and about the history of the Stearman biplane.

“It was amazing … He told me about what I was seeing on each side of the plane … It was incredibly interesting and informative. It was great. What a cool experience.”

Would she do it again?

“This was unbelievable. I would do it again. I never thought those words would come out of my mouth,” said Martino, who thought the plane ride was even more special because Thursday was also her 43rd birthday.

Kevin Martino was proud as he snapped photos of his wife before, after and during the flight.

(The Times photo courtesy of Betsy Reason)
Pilot and retired Noblesville math teacher Larry Jacobi (left) and pilot Tripper Kelleher (right) pose for a photo with Promise Road Elementary principal Christy Martino and assistant principal Billy Fama with Jacobi’s World War II Stearman biplane just before taking the administrators as front-seat passengers on a flyover for students on Thursday, celebrating reaching a $25,000 school fundraising goal.

“What do you think of your mom being up there? A pretty cool Mom, isn’t she,” the dad said to their kids.

Just as the Martinos were finishing up photos after the flight, her assistant principal was landing after a similar but even more breathtaking flight.

Fama’s pilot, flying a yellow U.S. Navy Stearman, made a full loop with the plane, inverting the plane, with Fama in it, at the top of the loop. By the time that the plane landed, Fama was “ready to be on the ground.” Although, he admitted to having taken along the “inspirational music” of the “Top Gun” soundtrack on his cell phone.

After the ride, they talked about their flights, and photos were snapped, again. Then the principals hurried back to school to see the students at the end-of-day dismissal. Martino said, “I’m sure they are going to be very excited.”

The public-use airport on Promise Road just north of 146th Street was built in 1985 on a farm field that Jacobi purchased with business partner, the late Don Roberts. Soon after the runway was installed, Roberts built a house facing the runway, then Jacobi built a house facing the runway, then two more houses were built facing the runway.

Years before that, Jacobi met Roberts, a pilot and aviation teacher at NHS. “That’s how I got started flying in airplanes,” Jacobi said. “I wanted to partner up and learn to fly.” Jacobi taught 33 years at NHS as a math teacher, retiring in 1999, and was a Noblesville School Board member 2000-2008.

(The Times photo courtesy of Betsy Reason)
Promise Road Elementary assistant principal Billy Fama (left) sits in the front passenger seat with pilot Tripper Kelleher just before takeoff in Kelleher’s World War II Stearman biplane for a flyover for students on Thursday, celebrating reaching a $25,000 school fundraising goal.

 The Experimental Aircraft Association’s Noblesville Chapter No. 67, of which Jacobi is a member, meets the first Monday of every month, at 6 p.m., with pitch-in and program, at Noblesville Airport, and the club serves pancakes two Saturdays each summer, in June and August, with breakfast and fly-in open to the public, drawing dozens of aircraft and hundreds of people from the community.

Jacobi, 78, has given hundreds of airplane rides in his Stearman over the years. “For some of them, it’s their very first time. Some of them have never been in an airplane before,” he said.

In fact, for those in Noblesville Schools community, a 30-minute ride with Jacobi in his World War II Stearman will be among the items up for bid in Noblesville High School’s silent auction during NHS’s “Chicago, The Musical,” Nov. 17, 18 and 19 at NHS Auditorium.

Contact Betsy Reason at betsy@thetimes24-7.com.