This is what the future of aviation looks like. Ten young adults—kids really, ages 16 to 20—all members of the Lakeland AeroClub, flying cross-country from Florida to Wisconsin in five antique airplanes for the Experimental Aircraft Association’s annual Oshkosh AirVenture (photo portfolio). AeroClub members had spent 2½ years fully restoring one of the airplanes, a 1953 Piper L-18C Super Cub formerly owned by the Turkish air force and donated by James Ray, one of their adult mentors. For many of the young aviators, seeing the Super Cub fly in the Vintage Review at Oshkosh on July 23 was the airshow’s highlight.
Founded in 2010 at Lakeland Linder Regional Airport, site of the annual Sun ’n Fun fly-in, the AeroClub is a model for similar flight clubs across the country whose mission is to engage high school students in aviation and foster their love of flying. According to AeroClub director Mike Zidziunas, who flew to Oshkosh with the young men in his 1956 Piper Pacer, the club has produced 32 private pilots and has had 56 students make their solo flight while members. He told The Ledger, a Lakeland newspaper, that the AeroClub and affiliated programs at the Central Florida Aviation Academy, Polk State College and Sun ’n Fun summer camps represent a “cradle to the cockpit” system.
Club member Phillip Herrington, 20, who was attending his fifth AirVenture, told the EAA that he was there to spread the message that it’s possible for young people to attain their private pilot’s certificate—“Even though we’re young and the majority of society of today says we’re too immature to fly airplanes and take on a responsibility like this. They did it in World War II and we’re doing it again now.”
“My favorite thing about AirVenture was getting to meet all the other young aviators and interact with kids my age that also share a passion for aviation,” said Trevor Penix, 16. For Vlad Prostocov, 20, “All of our trip was unbelievable, but my favorite part was volunteering on the airshow performance ramp. I saw a lot of the best pilots in the world so close, and we got to help Patty Wagstaff, providing ground support.” Donovan Richards, 18, echoed that sentiment, saying he enjoyed “getting the opportunity to work closely with the airshow performers, and getting to see an airplane I helped restore fly in the show.”
Richards reported that this was the club’s third trip to Oshkosh. “It is a great reward for those who have done an excellent job working with the club,” he said. “Also a great learning experience for new pilots and soon-to-be pilots to fly across the country and back.” For these young aviators, who exhibit a sense of purpose and responsibility beyond their years, you get the feeling the sky’s the limit.