Our Team

A Passion for Aviation

Meet the Team at Smith Field Airport

At Sweet Aviation, flying is more than a hobby or even a career — it’s a lifestyle propelled by passion. Our dedicated team is committed to cultivating that passion in each customer, whether new to the skies or a lifelong aircraft enthusiast.

Chuck Surack
Chuck Surack, Owner

You may recognize Chuck Surack as the Founder of Sweetwater Sound, as the owner of luxury car dealership SweetCars, or as a community leader, serving on the boards of many local non-profit organizations.

What you might not know is that Chuck is a helicopter pilot and aircraft enthusiast. Inspired by his aviator father, Chuck has loved flying since childhood, even keeping his Boy Scouts Aviation merit badge to this day. His first flying experiences were in his dad’s Aeronca Chief based right here at Smith Field. Chuck would go on to own many other airplanes and helicopters, such as the Cessna 414, Cessna Citations, and the Eurocopter EC130, just to name a few. He loves flying and can often be found at the helm of a helicopter. He and his wife, Lisa, have two sons and a daughter.

Tim Edmonds
Tim Edmonds, Vice President of Aviation

Tim started his journey in aviation over 36 years ago with an impressive array of flight experience ranging from service in the military to corporate flights. He also has thousands of hours of international, mountain, and overwater flights in helicopters and airplanes.

Tim graduated with a bachelors’s degree from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and is a graduate of the FAA ATC Academy.

Joel Pierce
Joel Pierce, General Manager, Chief Flight Instructor & Charter Pilot

With well over 20 years of flight experience, Joel’s passion for flight knows no bounds. In 2002 Joel earned his private pilot certificate, later attending the International Air Land Emergency Resource Team (ALERT) Academy where he obtained his instrument rating along with his commercial and flight instructor certificates.

At over 5,000 hours of flight instruction, Joel now leads the staff at Sweet Aviation and passionately assists the aviation enthusiasts of Fort Wayne with reaching their dreams of flight. He is type rated in Sweet Aviation’s Cirrus Vision Jet, certified to fly client’s T-28, as well as highly skilled in aerobatic maneuvers in the Super Decathlon.

Michael Neese
Michael Neese, Operations Manager & Certified Helicopter Flight Instructor

Originally from Cloverdale, Indiana, Michael graduated from Manchester University, later working in Indianapolis in international logistics.

That all changed for Michael after a helicopter tour around the San Francisco Bay Area. After that, he felt destiny pull him in the direction of aviation which led him to training at Sweet Aviation. He has since obtained his fixed-wing private pilot certificate and helicopter CFI rating.

When Michael has his feet on the ground, he operates a non-profit sports foundation as well as several other community focused ventures in Fort Wayne.


Joel Pierce
Joel Pierce , General Manager, Chief Flight Instructor & Charter Pilot

With well over 20 years of flight experience, Joel’s passion for flight knows no bounds. In 2002 Joel earned his private pilot certificate, later attending the International Air Land Emergency Resource Team (ALERT) Academy where he obtained his instrument rating along with his commercial and flight instructor certificates.

At over 5,000 hours of flight instruction, Joel now leads the staff at Sweet Aviation and passionately assists the aviation enthusiasts of Fort Wayne with reaching their dreams of flight. He is type rated in Sweet Aviation’s Cirrus Vision Jet, certified to fly client’s T-28, as well as highly skilled in aerobatic maneuvers in the Super Decathlon.

Lorin Kaney
Lorin Kaney , Chief Charter Pilot

Lorin began his journey in aviation in 2003 at the ALERT Academy in Texas, eventually obtaining his private pilot license, instrument rating, A&P license, and CFI/CFII.

Born in Northwest Indiana, Lorin moved to Fort Wayne with his wife and what he enjoys most about Sweet Aviation is the opportunity to share in the joy of flight with his students as well as guide them to becoming safe and proficient pilots.

Joe Kobiela
Joe Kobiela , Charter Pilot

Joe logged his first pilot in command time in 1979, since then he has flown 14,000 hours as a private, charter, and instructor. After retiring from Dana Corporation with 31 years of seniority he is finally working his dream job as a charter pilot at Sweet Aviation. He loves to help his passengers have a safe and stress-free trip every time.

In addition to being a charter pilot, Joe is also a single and multi-engine engine airline transport pilot, single and multi-engine instrument flight instructor, King Air 350 type rating.

Joe lives in Auburn with his wife of nearly 40 years Pat, their Golden Retriever, and a cat, and has two grown daughters. In his spare time he loves to run, lift weights, read military history, and of course fly.

Tyson Whitner
Tyson Whitner , Charter Pilot

A Fort Wayne native, Tyson first got his taste of flying at Smith Field with the Young Eagles. He followed that passion through high school, participating in programs that led him towards his A&P license. He later graduated from Indiana State University with a degree in Professional Flight Technology while playing football for the Sycamores.

Tyson also has his private, instrument, commercial, and CFI/CFII certificates and is eager to share his passion for flying with the Fort Wayne community.

Dennis Whitacre
Dennis Whitacre , Charter Pilot

Dennis grew up watching planes depart at Fort Wayne’s Baer Field, which is now Fort Wayne International Airport. He made up his mind early on he would become a pilot. He earned his Associate of Applied Science Degree in Air Traffic Control and then went on to earn his Airline Transport Pilot license and become typed in multiple aircraft.

Dennis isn’t the only pilot in his family. His son flies for the U.S. Military, and his cousin has flown for many years. When not flying charter, Dennis likes to paint, sing in a choir, and participate in his church.

Paul Wilhelmson
Paul Wilhelmson , Charter Pilot

Growing up in Bolivia flying mission aviation airplanes, Paul’s passion for flying is vast. He earned his private, instrument, commercial and A&P licenses at the school of Missionary Aviation Technology in Michigan, later spending a few years working as a pilot and A&P in both Indonesia and Bolivia.

Previously, Paul worked in Indianapolis obtaining his multi-engine commercial and CFI ratings.

He enjoys sharing his unique experience and passion for aviation with others as well as spending time with his wife, Jami, and their four children.

Katelyn Foutz
Katelyn Foutz , Charter Pilot Second in Command

Katelyn comes from a long line of flying enthusiasts. Her family were members of the Yankee Air Force and for a time were associated with the Yankee Air Museum in Belleville, Michigan. In addition, her grandfather worked in a B-24 bomber plant during WW2 and her father served in the Air Force where he worked on F-16s.

Katelyn attained her private pilot certificate from Purdue University and completed the remainder of her training at LIFT Academy. She recently attained her certificate to become an Advanced Ground Instructor as well. In addition, Katelyn also graduated from Ivy Tech Indianapolis with an associate’s degree in general studies and a technical certificate in business administration too.

When not at work Katelyn enjoys spending time outdoors with her husband Joshua and their children hiking through local and state parks.

Rachel Cheng
Rachel Cheng , Charter Operations Specialist

Originally from Fort Wayne, Rachel joined the Sweet Aviation family in 2015 and has over fifteen years of customer service experience. She is a graduate of Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne with a bachelor’s in psychology and is looking forward to becoming a pilot herself soon.


James Cutright
James Cutright, Lead Flight Instructor

For most of his life, James’ interest in flight had been mainly academic, as he served as a long-time physics and astronomy instructor in the Fort Wayne area. That changed in 2019, when he celebrated finally paying off his student loans with a quick discovery flight. That sparked a desire in him to master learning to fly. After his first solo flight, he knew he’d found his new career path. As a certified flight instructor for Sweet Aviation, he’s able to share his passion for aviation with others as well as the science behind it!

Carter Stuard
Carter Stuard, Flight Program Coordinator, Certified Helicopter Flight Instructor

Since the age of six, Carter has had a deep rooted love of aviation. While in his senior year of high school in Danville, Indiana, Carter earned his private airplane pilot certification and has since obtained his airplane instrument rating, helicopter private pilot certificate, helicopter commercial certificate, and his helicopter certified flight instructor certificate.

Carter currently lives in Bluffton, Indiana and is working toward his degree in mathematics at Indiana University East.

Alex Akins
Alex Akins, Certified Flight Instructor

Alex grew up in Williamsburg, Virginia, and graduated from Texas State University with a Bachelor’s degree in Finance. Alex completed his private, instrument, commercial (single and multi), CFI, CFII, and MEI at ATP in Richmond, Virginia. Alex is also a Staff Sergeant in the Indiana Air National Guard.

Alex loves sharing his passion for aviation and is continually looking for new ways to learn and grow as an instructor and a pilot.

Ryan Anderson
Ryan Anderson, Sr. Certified Flight Instructor

After bouncing around between majors in college, Ryan happened upon aviation by accident on his commute through his grandparents’ small town in Northwest Indiana. One discovery flight is all it took for him to radically switch tracks to pursue flying. This is where he, “Caught the bug!”

This passion for flying only deepened upon enlisting in the Air National Guard at Fort Wayne’s 122nd Fighter Wing, home of the Blacksnakes. During his enlistment in the reserves, Ryan worked on his Private, Instrument, Commercial, and CFI licenses, all while holding a full-time job. Currently, Ryan is working to achieve bachelor’s degree from Liberty University’s aviation program.

Outside of flying, Ryan is a husband to a great wife, dog dad, major foodie and coffee fiend, musician, and thrill seeker of all things. Ryan believes you should love what you do even on the hard days.

Austin Bubb
Austin Bubb, Certified Flight Instructor

Originally from Daytona Beach, Florida Austin always had a fascination for aviation but ended up pursuing his Bachelor’s degree in Athletic Training and Master’s degree in Sport Management from the University of Florida. After working as an athletic trainer at the collegiate and professional sports levels for several years, Austin relocated to Fort Wayne and ultimately decided to pursue his passion for aviation at Sweet Aviation. Austin completed his private and instrument ratings through Sweet Aviation before finishing commercial, CFI, and CFII in Ohio and Mississippi. 

When not flying Austin enjoys riding his motorcycle, spending time with family and friends, and watching any University of Florida Sports team.

Zach Deaton, Certified Flight Instructor

Zach comes from a long line of pilots. His father, grandfather, and grandmother are all private pilots. Having grown up in Sylvania, Ohio Zach would attend Bowling Green State University where he would major in Business and Marketing Education. In addition, Zach would serve in the Ohio Army National Guard where he was a tank commander. Zach attained his private pilot license at Suburban Aviation in Lambertville, Michigan, Instrument Rating and Commercial Pilot License at ATP in Nashville, Tennessee, and CFI, CFII, and MEI Licenses at Midwest Corporate Air in Bellefontaine ,Ohio.

Connor Denny
Connor Denny, Sr. Certified Flight Instructor

Connor was born in Germany as the son of an Army aviator and comes from a long line of pilots and aviation enthusiasts. He knew he wanted to be a pilot at a young age and after moving to Utah finally took the plunge into an aviation career. Connor did all his training in Salt Lake City before moving to Fort Wayne to join the Sweet Aviation team. He hopes to pass on his passion for flying to new pilots and continue to grow as a pilot and as an instructor.

Elizabeth Horney
Elizabeth Horney, Certified Flight Instructor

Elizabeth’s interest in flight runs deep. She attended the Army Aviation Flight School at Fort Rucker as a commissioned officer where she learned to fly several different types of helicopters including the Blackhawk. Then, after a deployment to Afghanistan, she took the Captain’s Career Course back here in the US before ending her military service with a deployment to South Korea. Currently, she’s a flight instructor for Sweet Aviation where she helps our students learn and achieve their goals. When not flying, Elizabeth enjoys spending time rock climbing and mountaineering with her husband Daniel.

Paul Faurote, Certified Flight Instructor

Paul credits his high school aerospace engineering teacher for inspiring his passion for aviation. After graduation, Paul pursued an associate degree from Ivy Tech in applied sciences of professional flight. He then entered an accelerated, airline-focused program, FAA Part 141 and Part 61 training, all while also earning his private, instrument, commercial, CFI, and CFII certificates.

When not flying, Paul enjoys exploring the outdoors, fishing, and hunting. He cherishes spending time with his wife and family, traveling, and playing card games.

Brandon Graber, Certified Flight Instructor

Originally from Nebraska, Brandon graduated from Indiana University and has called Fort Wayne home since 2004.

His passion for helicopters was ignited after college when he had the opportunity to fly in a UH-60 Blackhawk through the Army officer training battalion over the IU campus. Since that moment he focused on becoming a pilot.

Brandon obtained his private helicopter certificate in 2019 and is currently working towards his commercial rating and hopes to be a CFI for Sweet Aviation as well as an ATP-rated helicopter pilot.

Rick Knight
Rick Knight, Certified Flight Instructor

Rick’s done it all from Air Force pilot training on T-37 and T-38 aircraft, flying several planes in the American Airlines fleet around the world, to being a check airman and instructor and so much more.

Experience spanning nearly 50 years and an unprecedented passion Rick is the ultimate aircraft enthusiast. His early days were spent right here in Fort Wayne at Smith Field and his passion led him all across the globe.

Jacob Kohlmeyer, Certified Flight Instructor

Before Jacob discovered his love for aviation, he always felt as if something was missing from his life. He began his time in college unable to find a major he felt truly passionate about. By the time he entered the workforce, he still felt unfulfilled. That all changed when his friend offered to take him flying in a Cirrus SR20. After the flight, Jacob immediately began researching flight training and scheduled a meeting with Sweet Aviation. He completed his private, instrument, and commercial flight training through Sweet. Jacob then officially joined the team as a flight instructor.

When not at work, Jacob enjoys spending quality time with friends, family, and dog. He’s also a big fan of hockey. You’ll regularly find him on the ice rink either playing or officiating.

Griffin Lapan
Griffin Lapan, Certified Flight Instructor

Airplanes and travel have always been a source of wonder for Griffin. Griffin studied Airline Management at Purdue University and later attended flight school at ATP. After graduation, he chose to return to his hometown of Fort Wayne to help Sweet Aviation customer achieve their own flight goals. He takes pride in delivering quality flight and ground instruction for anyone seeking their private pilot certification, instrument rating, or commercial pilot certification. When he’s not up flying, Griffin loves to attend Purdue basketball games to cheer on his Boilermakers.

Cameron Snider
Cameron Snider, Certified Flight Instructor

Cameron has had a passion for aviation from a young age. Inspired by two family Navy pilots, he went on to earn an Aerospace Engineering degree from Virginia Tech. After graduation, he enjoyed a stint as a flight test engineer flying on Rolls-Royce’s 747 flying test bed and Boeing’s 787-8 flight test fleet. While working, Cameron completed flight training in a variety of places — Indiana, Texas, Washington, and Ohio, and earned his sport, private, instrument, commercial, and CFI certificates.

When not flying, Cameron enjoys spending time with his beautiful and talented wife and awesome kids. They love traveling, camping, and hiking together.

Bob Schmelz
Bob Schmelz, Certified Flight Instructor

Bob is no stranger to the aviation community in Fort Wayne having been an instructor in the area since 1987. He enjoys sharing his enthusiasm for aviation with others, volunteering with the EAA Young Eagles, Scouting’s Aviation Explorers, and the Civil Air Patrol.

Bob is rated for single-engine land with instrument and commercial privileges plus glider and multi-engine endorsements.

Ezra Suozzi
Ezra Suozzi, Certified Flight Instructor

Ezra was born and raised in Fort Wayne. His passion for flight first sparked in elementary school when he watched the movie Top Gun. Then, as a freshman in high school, he took his first flight in a small plane right here at Sweet Aviation. Ezra went on to study professional flight at Purdue University, graduating with his CFI. He joined the Sweet Aviation team in the summer 2023. As a flight instructor, he hopes to inspire in others the same, incredible passion for flight he has.


Sean Barr
Sean Barr, Director of Maintenance & Certified Aircraft Mechanic

Originally from Detroit, Michigan, Sean graduated with honors from the US Air Force Academy with a bachelor’s in political science and a German language minor. He went on to serve eleven years on active duty as an Air Force Special Operations Pilot, logging over 2,100 hours of flight time including 1,000 hours of combat over Iraq and Afghanistan. For his accomplishments Sean was awarded a Bronze Star and eleven Air Medals.

In addition to aircraft, Sean is also passionate about his faith and earned his master’s in Theological Studies from Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary while attending A&P school.

Sean enjoys spending time with his four daughters, as well as camping, traveling, and hunting.

Michael Brewer, Maintenance Coordinator

Michael attended Vincennes University in the aviation flight program. There, he received private, commercial, and instrument flight training. He only recently returned to the aviation industry after an exciting 18-year adventure in the live music industry. Now, being a part of Sweet Aviation, he gets to enjoy his passion for both music and flying.

Jeff Reid
Jeff Reid, Maintenance Admin Assistant

Jeff didn’t know it at the time, but seeing airplanes at an airshow would send him down a career path in the aviation industry. Growing up in the Midwest, Jeff would attend a university where he would receive two Associate of Applied Science degrees as well as a Bachelor of Science business degree. Jeff then joined the Air Force where he would serve six years and be deployed to the Middle East three times. At Sweet Aviation, Jeff handles the administration and logistics for the maintenance shop and plans to earn his pilot license soon.

Austin Scheiderer
Austin Scheiderer, Shop Foreman & Certified Aircraft Mechanic

Austin earned his A&P and commercial pilot certificates from the School of Missionary Aviation Technology and has had a career as an aircraft mechanic and flown aerial survey missions across the United States.

Austin later graduated from Ethnos360 Bible Institute with an associate’s in biblical studies. He and his wife, Katie, have have a daughter and hope to one day fly with Ethnos360 as overseas missionaries.

Eric Carranza, Certified Aircraft Mechanic

Eric has been working with his hands from a young age, be it putting together model cars or lego sets. His first car was a gradation gift that he had to get running himself. After high school, Eric worked as a service advisor in the automatic industry servicing and repairing automobiles. After a few years, Eric enrolled at Ivy Tech Community College where he earned his A&P license. He complemented this by enlisting in 2018 where he would serve with the 122nd Fighter Wing located in Fort Wayne, Indiana where he worked on the Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II.

In his free time, Eric loves spending time with his two children, his wife, and family.

Eric Faulkner
Eric Faulkner, Certified Aircraft Mechanic

Eric grew up in the Fort Wayne, Indiana area and after his enlistment in the US Army, he focused on aviation as his next passion and turned it into a career path. Specializing in avionics and aircraft electrical systems, Eric earned his A&P through his time on the job and completed the program at Bakers School of Aeronautics.

He and his wife have three children and one of them is a plane lover already. Outside of aviation, Eric enjoys riding his motorcycle and beekeeping.

Corey Flynn
Cory Flynn, Aircraft Detailer

Cory was born and raised in Fort Wayne Indiana.  As a young kid, he worked with his father pressure washing his commercial accounts. Ever since then, Cory knew he had a passion and attention to detail. He then started detailing vehicles and about two years into that, he became more intrigued by the dynamics of performing paint correction and protection. Along with Cory’s training and courses, he traveled to Atlanta, GA to become a Certified Detailer- Skills Validated, then to Irvine, CA to earn his Detailing Master Technician Training Course Certificate. He is an active member of the International Detailing Association as well.

Daniel Horney, Certified Aircraft Mechanic

Daniel grew up in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and left the area after enlisting in the Marine Corps. Towards the end of his time in the military, he married his wife, Elizabeth, as she was beginning her career in the US Army as a helicopter pilot. Elizabeth’s career moved them to Washington state where Daniel attended Clover Park Technical College during which time he was issued his airframe and power plant certificates and received his associate degree in aviation maintenance. After working in general aviation in Washington and Alabama, the Army moved them to South Korea where Daniel worked on UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters. Upon completion of Elizabeth’s military commitment, they moved back to the Fort Wayne area where Daniel began working at Sweet Aviation.

Carter Kelly, Certified Aircraft Mechanic

Carter grew up in Fort Wayne, Indiana but has lived in Florida, Kentucky, and Michigan. Growing up he was always interested in mechanical objects and spent his formative years working on his own vehicles and vehicles for friends. Carter became interested in flying and saw aircraft maintenance as a good stepping stone to get into the industry. After high school he attended Ivy Tech Community College where he attained Airframe and Powerplant Certificates.

In his free time Carter enjoys spending time with family and friends, playing video games, working out, and reading.

Jessica McQueen
Jessica McQueen, Certified Aircraft Mechanic

Jessica brings 12 years of experience serving in the U.S. Army to her role as an aircraft mechanic for Sweet Aviation. She spent nine of those 12 years serving as a UH-60 Blackhawk mechanic and crew chief. At Fort Drum, she supervised a team of more than 60 mechanics, working on three different military helicopter airframes. She has no shortage of experience flying either, flying mission sets in Central America, Haiti, Afghanistan, and Japan.

Jessica received her A&P certificates in 2023. She is currently working toward her bachelor’s degree in psychology. When not surrounded by aircraft, Jessica loves surrounding herself with her family and pets.

Brock Nafziger
Brock Nafziger, Certified Aircraft Mechanic

Brock is from Archbold, Ohio and earned his A&P certificate from Michigan Institute of Aviation and Technology. His passion for aircraft began in his early teens when Brock decided to pursue a career in aviation. He enjoys off-road adventures in his Jeep and spending time with family.

Andrew Rupert
Andrew Rupert, Certified Aircraft Mechanic

Andrew was hooked into aviation at an early age when his uncle purchased a flight for him and his brother in a New Standard D-25 at the Air Zoo Aerospace & Science Museum in Kalamazoo, Michigan. With that start, he graduated from Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan, with a Bachelors of Technology in Aviation Flight & Maintenance. While finishing his A&P Andrew worked as a part time flight instructor for the university.

In his free time Andrew enjoys spending time outdoors with his wife, Alicia. The couple is often found camping, hiking, or Kayaking.

Customer Service

Shae Henn, Customer Experience Specialist

Shae grew up in the Syracuse-Wawasee area before moving to Fort Wayne to attend Purdue Fort Wayne. He had originally planned to complete a degree in Secondary Education. However, after hopping into the cockpit of an airplane for a discovery flight, Shae shifted his focus to pursuing a career in aviation. He enrolled in Sweet Aviation’s Certified Flight School, and he now serves as a Customer Experience Representative.

Ian Kreie
Ian Kreie, Customer Experience Specialist

Ian is a Fort Wayne native who’s responsibilities include repositioning aircraft, assisting customers, and helping coordination between students and their flight instructors. He became interested in aircraft after attending a local airshow, and one day hopes to become a pilot himself. In his free time Ian enjoys scuba diving.

Derek McDonald
Derek McDonald, Customer Experience Specialist

After his first discovery flight with Sweet Aviation, Derek knew he had found his calling and a team he wanted to work with. Previous to Sweet Aviation, Derek spent six years traveling the country climbing as an arborist and also worked at the Nashville International Airport. He is the father of four beautiful children and is also a musician who loves to perform and bring people and communities together.


Leo Murphy
Leo Murphy, Customer Experience Specialist

Leo spends his days at Sweet Aviation helping schedule customers, answering their questions and getting them where they need to go. He wants to learn how to fly and sees his career at Sweet Aviation as his first step to getting his pilot’s license. Leo is from Fort Wayne and in his free time enjoys golfing.

Tim Ormsby
Tim Ormsby, Customer Experience Specialist

Tim has had a longtime love for flying after obtaining his private pilot license in 1987 at Smith Field. He has since owned several different single and twin-engined airplanes and has logged over 3,450 hours of total flight time.

Tim is also a mission pilot with the Civil Air Patrol and a volunteer piloting Young Eagle flights and flying rescue dogs to their new foster homes for Pilots ’n Paws.

Melissa Pierce, Aircraft Detailer

Melissa is a high school student who has been around airplanes her entire life. She’s currently in ground school and in her free times loves to draw and ride roller coasters.

Email us or give us a call at (260) 267-5505 if you have questions or would like more information.

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