Jamie Carnes Checks Off Bucket List Item By Taking To The Skies
Darren Doyle, story, photos, and video:
Most everyone that knows Jamie Carnes knows him from his years of service at Edmonson County Schools: 29 so far, to be exact. Many others know him from his play-by-play basketball broadcasting with Edmonson County basketball as he's become a familiar voice on WildcatsLive on the Edmonson Voice. Fewer know him for his passion about fast, old cars, and virtually no one knows about his newest joy--flying.
That's right. After several months of flying lessons that were (ahem) kept under the radar, Jamie officially received his pilot's license in January of this year. The newfound hobby is another item that can be added to his list of engaging activities, about which few people know. By day, he's a mild-mannered school district administrator (yawn), who's served as Director of Federal and State Programs for Edmonson County Schools since 2014. In the afternoons and on weekends, he becomes Carnes. James Carnes, pilot and hot rod renaissance man--a multi-county man of mystery. Well, not really, but he does some really cool things.
Carnes, or Mr. Carnes, as many former ECHS students know him, said he'd always thought about being a pilot, thanks to his father, Jimmy Carnes. The senior Carnes was also somewhat of a dynamic character; he was a WW11 war hero, former professional boxer, and he never hesitated to brag on his little boy, Jamie, who was reading at a very young age.
"Daddy bragged on me everywhere we went," Jamie said with a half-grin. "He'd carry around books just to have me read to people. I'm sure people got tired of it but he just lit up about that stuff."
The senior Carnes was a much older father than most; 48 years old when Jamie was born. His mother, Agnes Carnes, a long-time educator in Edmonson County, was 42 when she gave birth to Jamie.
"It was definitely a generation gap," said Jamie.
But that gap wasn't a disadvantage--other than getting parents from the Greatest Generation to let a Generation X teen to do teen things--it was an opportunity for Jamie to start a love for history and an all-around appreciation for people, places, and things from generations past. That appreciation led to him starting his career in education as an English and History teacher for nine years. Afterwards, he became Assistant Principal at ECHS for eight more years.
Jamie said his father would often mention that Jamie should become a pilot someday. Jimmy Carnes was also a parachute jumper in the war and started the process of learning to fly but never finished the training. Jamie said it was always a passing thought but it was one of those situations where it was, "well maybe someday I'll do that."
Things changed in 2016 when he met one of his estranged half-brothers, James Alfred Carnes, (known as Alfred) who lives in Rome, Georgia. The story of estrangement is another one all to itself, but the fact is, Jamie's half-niece (who is a few years younger than he) contacted him in the late 90s and wanted to know more about him and his family in Kentucky. Through much correspondence over the years, that niece bridged a gap between Jamie and Alfred, and a new bond was formed.
Alfred is 20 years Jamie's senior, but they soon discovered that although they'd never even met until Jamie was almost 50 and Alfred 70, they shared many hobbies and interests. Alfred was a connoisseur of old cars, the military, (a Vietnam vet) and was a very experienced pilot with his own plane. Not only a plane, but also his own hangar, where he currently hangs out with his buddies doing very important things since Alfred's retirement from both the army and a Georgia power company. Things like smoking cigarettes, talking about cars, the army, shooting pool, or listening to the jukebox in the corner. Oh, and yes, they do a lot of flying, too.
Alfred spoke to us about their relationship and his effort to convince Jamie that the time to fly was now.
"I hate it that we got together so late in life," he said. "But that's the way things are. I've been flying since '68 or '69, sometime through there. I was in the First Air Cavalry in Vietnam in helicopters. I got hit and stayed in Walter Reed (hospital) for nearly a year and when I came out I said I wanted to fly, so that's what I did. I bought me a plane in '74 and several other planes since then. I'm not sure who even got in touch with Jamie, but we got together not long ago. I'm already up in age (72), and my grandson didn't really want to fly, so I sold a couple of planes and I really started trying to get Jamie to do this. There's just not a lot of us. I sent him a bunch of stuff on flying and just told him to learn how to fly. He came down here and I showed him what it was about, took him up in my plane. I just kept telling him, "hey, learn how to fly," and he did!"
Jamie said the connection to Alfred is much more than flying, as he's a constant reminder of his father, who died 25 years ago.
"He's literally my long, lost brother," Jamie said. "Thankfully, Heather, my niece, decided to reach out to me all those years ago. Without her, I'd have never met Alfred."
Check out this video of our flight as Jamie goes through all the pre-trip inspection, takeoff, flight, and landing process:
Jamie said Alfred's convincing was enough to let him see that the time to fly was now.
"I knew I wasn't getting any younger," Jamie said. "I just decided that if I was ever going to do it, I was going to go ahead now."
That's when he started the long process of learning how to become a pilot. That started with a very tedious medical certification, hours upon hours of studying for written exams, processes, all the ins-and-outs of flying, home exams, practice tests, and more. He bought books, watched videos, and took a home course before he actually started his flying lessons in July of 2020, which were sometimes 2-3 times per week. He did a great job of keeping all this under his hat as only his family was aware of his new hobby.
In January of 2021, he officially received his pilot's license after his final test, administered by an FAA examiner, which Jamie said was a nerve-racking experience.
"I was as nervous as I'd ever been about anything. Just think of it as a super-advanced driving test, except you're up in the air. You don't just get to pull over if something goes awry. I had to come up with a flight plan, map it out, the stops and checkpoints, all of it. It's extremely detailed."
He showed me a piece of an official cut shirttail that he had framed. It commemorated his first solo flight, which is a tradition among pilots that originated in the era of old tandem bi-planes, with the student up front and the pilot directly behind.
"Back then, the pilots didn't have headsets, so the instructor would reach up and yank the shirttail of the student to get his attention. The student would turn around and then they'd yell their communication at each other. Once the student learned to fly solo, well, he didn't need that shirttail anymore, so it was symbolically cut off."
Jamie says he plans to stay in the school system for a couple more years, at least as for now, then possibly look into getting his own plane after retirement. Currently, he has to rent a plane when going up, which is done by reserving one at the regional airport. He was gracious enough take us up for ride that started in Bowling Green, went north to Nolin Lake, then circled back to the airport. For someone that's only had a license for a few months, his flying skills were more than satisfactory (I lived to tell the tale, right?). But again, for those of us that know Jamie and how dedicated and thorough he his in everything he does, I expected no less.
When he's not working, broadcasting, spending time with his grown kids (Justin and Paige), or flying, you'll likely find the very detailed-oriented Carnes in his garage, (which is spotless) going over one of his restored 1970 Buick Gran Sports. Both are long term labors of love. He purchased the gold one in 1996, which was not much more than a heap of metal left for dead, but a complete restoration with the help of his friend "Big" Earl Talley, brought her back to life. It has a factory, matching numbers 455ci engine.
"I don't know where I'd be with out Earl," he said. "He's a master mechanic, an unbelievable fabricator, and so much more. If it weren't for him, these cars wouldn't even be here. There's no telling how many hours we've put in on these cars as well as others. If Earl's not racing on the weekends, he's usually here with me a lot, working on something. I can't get him to fly, though..."
The black Buick has an even more intriguing story. It was purchased in the mid-2000s by Talley for the purpose of racing, but it didn't exactly get where Talley first intended. After sitting in a yard for several more years in its ongoing rusted state, Talley traded it to Carnes. Together, along with some help from Jamie's son, Justin, they've spent the last ten years getting it to its current condition. The car features a modified 455 engine that will make you hold on to your hat when the gas pedal is stomped. It's also been known to leave rubber deposits on paved surfaces--or at least that's the rumor--we neither confirm nor deny. Improper starts are against the law in Kentucky.
His wife, Penny, has flown with Jamie multiple times as he has to keep up certain requirements and a number of landings every 90 days in order to fulfill some license requirements.
"I try to go every couple of weeks, if for no other reason that I don't get rusty. You have to stay with it, that's for sure."
The humble Carnes was very hesitant about letting the Voice publish the piece because he didn't want to seem boastful about anything at all. That's also the main reason he kept the entire flight-learning process under wraps; however, he marked a legitimate item off a bucket list that very few people have. In fact, lots of folks talk about a bucket list, but most never actually make such a list.
Becoming a pilot is certainly not for everyone, but there are many feats that go unaccomplished because we simply don't assert the effort to accomplish them.
As he stood with his hands in his pockets looking down at the ground as he tried to talk himself out of talking about himself, I said, "hey, it's just like Alfred said--he said you should learn how to fly... and you did."
After a pause and another half-grin, Jamie's reply was, "Well...yes."
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