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Cub Scouts hear from record-setting pilot

When Russellville Municipal Airport Manager Harry Mattox heard retired Lt. Col. Ed Yeilding speak at First United Methodist Church in August, he knew he had to get the speed record-setting Air Force pilot to come speak to Cub Scouts during their annual visit to the airport.

Last year was the first for Cub Pack 39 to participate in what Mattox is calling Cub Scouts Aviation Night. Last year Scouts enjoyed a presentation on the Tuskegee Airmen as well as historic instruments of aviation. But this year, Nov. 8, was designated for Yeilding’s story, as well as a presentation by student pilot/Eagle Scout Mark Smith.

More than 70, including Scouts, parents and volunteers, attended the talk. With such a large crowd, Mattox said he quickly decided to have the event in the hangar, rather than in the airport. With folding chairs, a podium and sound system, the hangar was ready to go.

Yeilding’s story is one few can rival. During his 23 years of service in the Air Force, Yeilding flew the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird reconnaissance aircraft during the Cold War. He is perhaps most famous, however, for a flight he made several years later: March 6, 1990, Yeilding and J.T. Vida broke the speed record for a transcontinental, coast-to-coast flight across the United States as they flew the Blackbird to its final home at the Smithsonian – making the trip in a mere 67 minutes and 54 seconds.

Yeilding spoke about the speed record, the Blackbird and his military career as part Cub Scouts Aviation Night. A Scout himself, Yeilding encouraged his young listeners to pursue their passions.

“He gave them a pep talk and told them, you guys can be whatever you want to be,” Mattox said.

Yeilding was 15 years old when he first heard of the Blackbird. “I thought, ‘Man, I’d like to fly that airplane someday,” he said. “Even before that, I always wanted to fly … I thought the best way to be a pilot was through the military.”

Following Yeilding and Smith’s presentations, Scouts also got to check out a couple of planes on-site at the airport.

Mattox said he was pleased to have the Scouts visit. “I think it’s a good service for the community, to get the airport involved in the community,” he said. He’s already planning next year’s program. “I want to instill in them a love for aviation,” he said. “To get them out here and the airport to look at these airplanes close up and get people talking to them about the history of our country through aviation, it’s just helping them grow and focus on the history of our country and why it’s so important they continue to rise up and study and become a part of it.”