As Tech. Sgt. Takeo Eda suspends himself in the air from his hang glider, he embodies the Air Force definition of resiliency. “I’m not allowed to quit,” he said. Even in unpredictable winds, Takeo recalls the efforts of the Wright Brothers and other aviation pioneers who learned from their mistakes.
(U.S. Air Force video/Andrew Arthur Breese)
Tech. Sgt. Takeo Eda considers himself to be one of the lucky ones because he’s always known exactly what he wanted. From his first memory, all he’s ever wanted to do was live a life soaring through the air.
In a small car topped with a PVC-pipe rack and a hang glider, Eda drove into the parking lot of the Ed R. Levin County Park in Santa Clara, California, keeping an eye out for Staff Sgt. Tevni Carrillo. The two had recently met online through a webpage for local hang gliding enthusiasts. Carrillo had just returned from a deployment and needed a refresher flight to shake off the cobwebs, and Eda was enthused to aid another Airman who shared his hobby.
After Carrillo pulled into the gravel lot, the two comfortably greeted each other. Then, they set about transferring gear into Carrillo’s truck, prepping for the dirt-road drive up one of the park’s hills for a jump off of the 600-foot gliding point. Both agreed that, though it is more of a soloist’s sport, having a buddy present while hang gliding is a plus.
“You definitely need a wingman to help you out, somebody to hold your nose wires or side wires to prevent you from just blowing over before a launch,” Carrillo said, noting that both the glider’s weight and gusting winds increase the challenge level. He also added that while it is great to have an additional person present for safety reasons, having a friend to go hang gliding with makes the sport even more exciting.
With or without a companion, however, Eda lives for his time in the sky.
Though the technical sergeant took up hang gliding only within the past three years, his passion for flight is much more extensive. Eda would be the first to admit it – he’s a geek about all things related to aviation.
“It’s hard to say when it started,” he said. “I’ve been like this since I was a kid. My grandma still tells stories about how, if there was an airplane flying overhead, she’d point it out to me as an infant and I’d look up at it. This is who I’ve always been.”
Because of his interests, Eda lived on the outskirts of the school’s social structure, a place he remained for the majority of his teen years. As such, he said he spent much of his time alone. During his youth, Eda had other “otaku,” or nerdy, friends, but none who really shared his love for everything sky-bound.
At the age of 18, he joined the Air Force Reserve and was able to find others who shared his enthusiasm for flight, as well as a secondary family who welcomed him — quirks and all.
“I joined when my unit was full of people older than my parents were at the time, and so it was like being adopted into the family,” Eda said. “A lot of those people have since retired and now we have a lot of young kids in our unit … And so because I got looked after, I know how to look after them.
“It’s a good thing to have that community of people behind you in whatever you’re doing, but the flip side is that when it comes time to support them, you have to do that,” he paused before adding with a smile, “(It’s) a small price to pay.”
Though he appreciated the way military service brought his fellow reservists together in support of each other, Eda had grown up with lone wolf tendencies and realized early on that he would have to adjust to a group-centered environment.
“That was the hardest part of basic training for me personally, learning how to deal with other people,” he said. “The drill aspect never really bothered me much. Even the discipline didn’t bother me much. But having to deal with other people (who) thought and worked differently, and having to make compromises — that was pretty rough.”
When he was a staff sergeant, Eda was selected for a temporary assignment as a funeral honors instructor on base. During that time, he learned new interpersonal skills as a leader of Airmen from many different backgrounds and career fields. Eda said he realized he had to constantly adjust how to talk to and deal with people so that it connected with who they are as individuals – tailoring his messages to fit those receiving them.
One eye-opening experience came in the form of honest feedback from those above him. Eda’s honor guard superintendent called him in for a meeting.
“He told me, ‘You’re a hammer.’ And I’m like, ‘What do you mean sir?’” Eda said. “He’s like, ‘You’re a hammer and every problem that emerges looks like a nail to you. It doesn’t matter if it’s a screw and a screwdriver would get that screw in easier; you’re a hammer, so you’re going to hammer away.’
That conversation got Eda thinking. He didn’t want to be the kind of person who only had one approach to deal with any particular problem, and started making every effort to improve. He was more comfortable leading people from his technical career field, and while on special duty, Eda had to learn better ways to problems solve and communicate with those who didn’t think or act in ways he was accustomed to.
While he was learning to embrace the individuality of others, he was also discovering how to do that for himself. He realized he wasn’t made to fit in, but to stand out – and he fully embraced his geeky loves of both technology and aviation.
“If there’s nothing morally incorrect about what you’re into, then you shouldn’t allow other people to put you down for it,” he said. “And it’s not that it’s any particular fault of yours; it’s actually a personal fault on their part. It may be that they don’t have anything they’re into, because if they did have stuff that they were that into then they would understand.”
He also hopes to share his message with kids who are growing up in similar social situations, where they are bullied or ostracized because they are different, or considered geeky because of their interests.
“I actually tell them that they should consider themselves lucky, even if it doesn’t feel that way up front,” Eda said. “They’re lucky because they know what they like up front … They can pick their path. Everybody else, they have to find what it is that they like, and then figure out what they’re going to do.”
At his apartment, in a spare room just large enough to fit one person comfortably, perhaps two at the most, the walls are covered from floor to ceiling with elaborate drones and model airplanes. On the leftmost wall is a lone workbench, where the real estate is being taken up by projects in progress, nuts, bolts, wires and tools. It is a room that Eda says is an expression of, “trying to stave off chaos,” preventing him from spreading his models and aerial tech gear throughout the house.
The aerial collection serves a purpose beyond just being aesthetically pleasing. Each piece also speaks volumes about who Eda is and what he values. Among the many models, he points out two of his favorites.
“I have a P-51 (Mustang), which is the most famous American fighter of World War II, and a Mitsubishi A6M5 model 52. That was the most famous fighter of the Imperial Japanese Navy. Together, they represent the two parts of my heritage,” he explained, as Eda is the first generation of his family to be born in the U.S. after his parents emigrated from Japan in the 1970s.
In many ways, the room is somewhat of an extension of him. Eda jokes that it’s disorganized and without a coherent theme; however, the overall feeling of the room is of a love for everything aviation. Whether it is in his shop at home, or gliding through the air in a hang glider, aviation is what makes him feel free.
“It would be neat to see more Airmen in the sport,” Eda said of hang gliding, “for no other reason than to see what (aviation is) all about. If you can’t sit in an F-16 (Fighting Falcon) cockpit, this is just another way to get into it.”
Though he might not always fly with a wingman, he finds that he’s seldom alone when practicing his sport. Many times he winds up quite literally beside birds of a different feather.
“(While) turning in a thermal and seeing a hawk … you realize that he’s watching you to see what you’re doing and you’re watching him to see what he’s going to do,” Eda said. “You make a move, and he makes a counter move. You’re kind of dancing in the sky with a hawk.
“When you’re in that situation, and you feel what you consider to be awe, the whole point is that there are no words for it, right?” he asked. “For people who don’t know what that’s like, on one hand I feel sorry for them, but on another level, it’s like … it’s time to go find out what awe is really all about.”