Everyone at the airport knew the 14-year-old kid standing at the observation deck window with a sketch pad in his hand had talent. The pilots, flight attendants and ground crews would see him there every weekend in the early 1960s drawing their TWA, Western and Eastern airlines jets as they taxied off the runways at New York City’s Idlewild Airport – now JFK. The kid had to take two buses to get there – an hour-and-a-half trip each way – but it didn’t matter. It was worth every minute sitting on those crowded buses to stand alone at that observation window watching all those beautiful planes take off and land. Poor eyesight would rob the kid of the opportunity to become one of those commercial pilots, but he had a backup plan. If he couldn’t fly those airplanes for a living, he would draw them. “When I was 8, my dad returned from a business trip with a promotional lithograph of an Eastern Airlines Golden Falcon DC-7 he had flown on,” said Mike Machat, at 59 now a well-known aviation artist living in Woodland Hills. “I remember asking him who drew the picture because it was magnificent. I couldn’t believe people had jobs that paid them for drawing airplanes.” So, that’s what he was doing one Saturday in 1963 – working on his career dreams – when the head of customer service for New York Airways, a commuter helicopter company, tapped him on the shoulder at that observation deck window. “Hey, kid, you want to get a closer look?” the man asked. Machat laughs at the memory. Imagine, with all the airport security today, anyone being invited down on the tarmac for a closer look. The teen jumped at the chance. Before long, he had parlayed his drawing talent into free helicopter flights around the city, including one for his mother on her birthday – her first flight ever. It would be 15 years later, though – after a hitch in the Air Force in northern Japan as an illustrator, and earning his degree in fine arts at California State University, Long Beach – when Machat would finally get the chance to repay that old debt he had been carrying around since the day his father brought home that promotional lithograph. “In 1977, I was hired by Douglas Aircraft in Long Beach to work in its art department,” Machat said Wednesday, getting ready for Friday’s second annual Aviation Career Day at Van Nuys Airport, where more than 1,400 local high school students will have their eyes opened to the field of aviation. “The first person I met in my new job was George Akimoto, the illustrator who had drawn that Eastern Airlines print my father brought home. He was getting ready to retire. “I brought it to work and showed it to him. He was astonished. I told George, `You’re the reason I am here.”‘ Machat, a private pilot, has had a successful career drawing more than 250 major works for the Air Force, Douglas Aircraft, Airbus and many private aviation enthusiasts, including legendary test pilot Chuck Yeager. “I’ve flown in 203 different types of aircraft, drawing them,” he said. “If I had become a (commercial airline) pilot, I would have never had the chance to do that.” And now he’s hoping to become a George Akimoto to the next generation of young men and women who may walk away from Aviation Career Day with the same passion he had for airplanes as a child. Machat will have 22 hand-picked illustrations of aviation history on display at the event sponsored by Syncro Aviation Inc. and Los Angeles City Councilman Tony Cardenas. “I’m hoping to plant the seeds that were planted for me,” he says. Hoping that a few kids will ask if it’s true that a person can really make a living drawing airplanes like this. Dennis McCarthy’s column appears Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday. [email protected] (818) 713-3749160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!