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Aviation instructor Derek Rowe of Tullahoma High School inducted into the Tennessee Aviation Hall of Fame

Tullahoma High School’s Derek Rowe was chosen to be inducted into 2023 Tennessee Aviation Hall of Fame later this year.

Tullahoma High School can soon claim that it has a hall of famer teaching classes, as aviation instructor Derek Rowe was recently notified that he will be inducted into the Tennessee Aviation Hall of Fame. 

“This award is very special to me, and I am going to dedicate it to the many friends, colleagues, industry professionals, and members of the community who are indeed the heroes here,” Rowe said. “They deserve recognition for all the help they give me in the background that makes me look good.”

Rowe is one of five individuals who will be inducted and celebrated during this year’s Tennessee Aviation Hall of Fame Enshrinement Ceremony on Nov. 4 in Murfreesboro. Joining Rowe in this year’s class are James C. Bynum (posthumously), Clay Derryberry, Robert “Bobby” Joslin and William F. Marrison. 

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“Upon meeting Derek Rowe, I thought he must be a Hall of Famer. After working with him for two years now, I know he is a Hall of Famer,” said THS Principal Jason Quick. “Recommending that TCS hire Derek to lead the aviation program at THS has been one of my best decisions as principal. His enthusiasm for flying, combined with a passion for his students, has allowed the THS aviation program to soar to great heights quickly.” 

Those who have spoken to Rowe can easily detect that he isn’t originally a Tennessee native. Though he now calls the Volunteer State home, he grew up and spent most of his life in the United Kingdom. That included his youth, where he set a goal of becoming a pilot.  

“When I was 10 years old, I was in Army Cadets, similar to JROTC, and we visited an Army unit,” Rowe said. “I went for a flight in an Army Air Corps, a Bell 47 (MASH Helicopter), and fell in love with flying.” 

Fourteen years after that initial flight, Rowe joined the British Army, becoming a helicopter pilot and mechanic.

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“I learned and experienced many things during my time in the British Army, including pride, honor, teamwork, and leadership, amongst the many things that have shaped who I am today,” Rowe said. “ If I had to pick one particular thing that I learned above anything else, that would be the appreciation and respect for other cultures. I have been fortunate enough to travel to many countries throughout the planet, and I have also learned about and experienced many cultures. These experiences have put my life in perspective, for which I am truly blessed.”

Following 17 years of service, Rowe moved to the United States to become a chief pilot for a medical transport organization. Three months into living in the U.S., he suffered a heart attack and was forced to find a new career path. Once healthy, Rowe began teaching aviation at McGavock High School.  

“Teaching was something that was totally removed from my intended pathway,” Rowe said. “However, this new career has given me so much joy. Seeing the youth of today become the leaders of tomorrow is quite the honor.”

Before he made his way to McGavock, the aviation program had been defunct. However, the school board decided to try to resurrect the program, leading to Rowe’s hiring. What happened next was nothing short of success. 

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“With the assistance of many stakeholders and supporters, McGavock became one of the top five high school aviation programs in the country,” Rowe said. “We became Industry Partners with Southwest Airlines and many scholarships, internships, cadetships and the list goes on.”

Ahead of the fall 2021 semester, Rowe made the difficult decision to leave McGavock for the same position at Tullahoma High School. The previous spring, Tullahoma City School officials announced the high school would add an aviation course, a partnership between the school system and the Aircraft Owners and Pilot Association (AOPA). 

Though change can be difficult, Rowe said he has been greeted by nothing but open arms since joining TCS. He also wanted to extend thank you to several local individuals including Beverly Lee, retired U.S. Air Force Colonel; Winson Brooks, Tullahoma Area Economic Development Corporation Executive Director; Karla Smith, AOPA Manager of Aviation Events and Sponsorship; John Miller, retired U.S. Air Force Major General; and John Glass, Tullahoma Municipal Airport Manager. 

“The Tullahoma community has been absolutely amazing, so welcoming and friendly,” Rowe said. “Aviation is the backbone of this great city. Tullahoma High School is a center point of that family, and to be a part of it is just fantastic. The aviation and higher education community have been superb, partnering with our aviation classes to again make us a success. This includes the University of Tennessee Space Institute, the Economic Development Commission, Arnold Air Force Base and Arnold Engineering Development Complex. Last and certainly not least, I want to say thank you to the administration at TCS and THS for their vision and confidence in me.”

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While Rowe thanks the school system, TCS Director of Schools Dr. Catherine Stephens returns the sentiment as she has enjoyed seeing the growth of the THS aviation program. 

“It has been our pleasure having Derek Rowe in our school system these last two years,” Dr. Stephens said. “In that short time frame, it has been amazing to watch aviation interest flourish and see the doors that are opening for our students. These opportunities are made possible because of the community and the hard work of Mr. Rowe. I am beyond thrilled to offer my congratulations on his induction into the Tennessee Aviation Hall of Fame. Thank you Mr. Rowe for all you have done to enable the aviation program in TCS to take off and soar.”

More information about the Tennessee Aviation Hall of Fame can be found here

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