There was always a call to flight for Andy Allen. But as a boy, his ambition was to fly slightly higher.
“I wanted to be an astronaut,” he said.
Allen found his way into the pilot’s seat of an airplane by age 14. And 9,000+ piloting hours later he joins the Pittsburgh-Butler Regional Airport as the newest addition to the Butler County Airport Authority Board.
Allen, 39, grew up on the bicentennial seventh-generation Armstrong Farms in Saxonburg, and admits becoming a pilot was an untraditional ambition among his family members.
“I’m the odd ball,” he said.
Andy’s mother, Kathy, bought him his first flight lesson as a birthday gift, and he began flying about once a month at McVille Airport in rural Armstrong County.
He flew his first solo at 16 in a Cessna 152.
“McVille was an old potato farm,” he said. “It had a grass strip, and they had to move the round bales off the runway for me to solo.”
Throughout his days as a student at Shady Side Academy, the lure to aeronautics lingered. Andy recalls seeing a space shuttle take off as a school field trip, attending “Space Camp,” and proposing a trip to the airport for career day.
For his high school senior project, he earned his instrument rating.
After high school graduation, Andy earned his bachelor’s degree in Aeronautic Technology from Purdue University. While there, he interned at Kennedy Space Center, specifically studying human factors in shuttle maintenance.
“I still had a space bug,” he said.
Andy worked his way through college as a mechanic at a local airport, and in the process also earned his commercial pilot’s license.
In 2000, he became a commercial pilot with American Eagle Airlines, first based in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
His home base for flight would change more than a dozen times, including Chicago, Boston and Los Angeles.
But his home address returned to being the family farm around 2003, and remains there today.
In 2013, he stopped commercial flight to spend more time with his wife Kristan and children Drew, now 5, and Olivia, 4.
“It was time to put both feet into Armstrong Farms,” he said.
The family business is growing in phenomenal and unexpected ways. In addition to the 200-300 head of cattle, the homestead now includes a landscaping supply element, a real estate business and a bed and breakfast.
Andy and his mom now team up to offer a successful on-site wedding package that includes a ceremony, accommodations and a follow up bonfire.
“We host weddings,” he said. “When you have a wedding here, you are really having it at our house.”
But still, Andy loves to fly.
When he quit the airline industry he first bought a Maule that he later traded in for a Cessna, which he keeps at Pittsburgh-Butler Airport.
“This airport is such a great asset for the community, joining the board just made sense to me,” he said. “I love aviation and I’m invested in this community.”