Volunteers introduce youth to aviation with free flights at Columbia Airport | News

Robert Roffulo

Eager children and their parents lined up to register for a free flight at Columbia Airport on April 23 thanks to the efforts of volunteers and members of the Experimental Aircraft Association Chapter 1337, who put on the event to help raise interest for aviation among youth. Volunteers greeted and […]

Eager children and their parents lined up to register for a free flight at Columbia Airport on April 23 thanks to the efforts of volunteers and members of the Experimental Aircraft Association Chapter 1337, who put on the event to help raise interest for aviation among youth.

Volunteers greeted and registered the children prior to the 20-minute flight before introducing them to the pilot who would take them up in either a two-seat or four-seat aircraft. Nine planes were commissioned for the flights and included one Citabria, one Beechcraft Bonanza, two Piper Comanches and five Cessna. 

The flight route encompassed the area around Jamestown, Chinese Camp and New Melones Reservoir on a sunny day with scarcely a cloud in the sky.

Nine pilots who are current members in the EAA National Chapter met the requirements of the day with a current medical certificate from the Federal Aviation Administration, a current aircraft insurance policy, a pilot endorsement for the type of aircraft being flown, a current annual inspection of the aircraft and headsets for the Young Eagles. 

Four of the aircraft and pilots are based at Columbia Airport and five are based at Pine Mountain Lake Airport.

Fourteen ground support volunteers worked in registration, dispatch, hot ramp and aircraft display. Seven of the ground crew came from Columbia Airport, six from Pine Mountain Lake Airport and one from Calaveras Airport. 

”In addition to the pilots, planes and ground support volunteers, Bald Eagle Aviation and Columbia Airport staff are integral to the success of the event.” pilot Janet Gregory, of Pine Mountain Lake said. “The reason that everyone volunteers for this event is to introduce the spirit of aviation to our youth. 

“The joy and delight experienced by every kid adds to the excitement of the day and introduces them to new possibilities. Aviation is a gratifying career field in military, commercial and private flight operations. There are a wide variety of career fields including aircraft maintenance, flight operations, ground support services, air traffic services and crew positions.”  

Aden Scheftner, 15, of Sonora, piloted a Citabria with the plane’s owner, Wayne Handley, of Pine Mountain Lake.

Scheftner said he attended the event even though he wasn’t planning on flying that day. He is home-schooled and in addition to going to the airport every Thursday, studies online on a site called Sporty’s Ground School and said he is working toward attaining a mechanics license. 

His father, Carson Scheftner, said Aden was “obsessed from a very young age, and he began his interest with flying radio controlled planes.”  

The family supports Aden’s passion and his mother, Tonya, was one of the ground crew volunteers. 

Darrien Lopez, 11 and his sister, Juliet, 9, signed up for the flights. Darrien said that he wants to be a pilot. Their dad, Joe, said his father, Ralph, worked on planes in the U.S. Navy in Vietnam and had model planes in the home. 

Juliet said that she was excited, “but a little nervous” because dad would not be on the flight.

Armin Abusaidi, of Pine Mountain Lake, was on hand with his 1959 Piper Comanche, which he referred to as the “family wagon.” The pilot, who has 32 years of flying experience, said he lets the child who sits in the front seat take control of the plane, saying, “They can’t do anything wrong.” 

“It’s a great program, introducing kids to aviation,” pilot Bob Hornauer, of Twain Harte, said.  “Some kids have never been in a plane before.” 

Hornauer showed off his blue T-shirt, a reward for flying 100 volunteer missions in the program as he helped brothers Terry Wingo, 9, and Rye Wingo, 8, both of Twain Harte, board his Cessna 172. 

Their father, Gabe Wingo, handed his cell phone to Terry who took photos while Rye was at the controls in the front seat. Dad said he was willing to go along with the boys, but they both said no at first, and that the “staff (at the event) helped them to be courageous on their very first time on an airplane.”

No aerobatic maneuvers were allowed, however, some pilots rocked their wings in a wing waggle during take off for parents and family on the ground. Headsets were provided for the children for communication between themselves and the pilot. Each child who participated received a certificate, an actual log book to keep track of their flight hours and a coupon for Sporty’s Flight School.

At the end of the day, 60 children ages 8 through 17 took to the skies, and an almost even number of boys and girls. 

The local EAA Chapter 1337 was founded in 2003 and has flown 1,111 Young Eagles. The chapter represents both Tuolumne County airports, which each host one Young Eagles rally per year.

The next Young Eagles rally in the county will be on Oct. 7 at Pine Mountain Lake Airport from 9 a.m. until noon. No Young Eagles Rallies were held in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic.

According to their website, the EAA was founded in 1953 by veteran aviator, Paul Poberezny, and other aviation enthusiasts and the international organization is based in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. 

The EAA currently has over 1,000 chapters around the world and over 200,000 members. The Young Eagles program began in 1992 and past chairmen for the program have included Chuck Yeager, Harrison Ford and Jimmy Graham. The first Young Eagles Day was held on June 11, 1994 and total Young Eagles Flown nationwide as of April 26, 2022: 2,248,166.

https://www.uniondemocrat.com/news/article_3581c4d8-cb1f-11ec-8ddb-d394dfe175a5.html

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