Air Academy celebrates flight

Third annual Florence program promotes science, careers & fun

Aug. 17, 2019 — The desire to fly is one of human-kind’s oldest dreams. These hopes first surface in the forms of legends and myths, like Icarus, the story of a young man who wanted to fly and perished in the attempt, and the Iroquois, whose myths include The Flying Heads, evil creatures that attack through the air.

These tall tales eventually gave way to real life attempts at flight, most famously by the Italian Leonardo DaVinci. DaVinci was a man of many talents who painted iconic works including “The Last Supper” and the “Mona Lisa.” He was also a scientist and designer, and was one of the first to conceive and draw a viable design for a flying machine.

DaVinci’s scientifically based designs for an aircraft and his accompanying observations have formed the basis of many later attempts at flight, including the successes of Wilbur and Orville Wright, who are credited with inventing, building and flying the world’s first successful airplane.

The centuries-old desire to leave earth and soar among the clouds is not nearly as difficult as it once was, and a perfect example of this change is taking place this summer at the Florence Municipal Airport. This is where for the third year in a row, members of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Western Lane County and local aviation firm Aero Legends are taking the first steps down a path that may lead students to obtaining a pilot’s license and flying a plane of their own.

Terry Tomeny is a retired U.S. Air Force pilot and owner of Aero Legends, which offers flying lessons and recreational flights in a colorful and historic Biplane.

Tomeny and others donate the fuel and the classroom space for the Air Academy and provide the students with an example of how a pilot and a small business owner can have a significant role in helping a young person better understand the options available to them as they grow up.

During the academy, Tomeny and other volunteer pilots instruct the students on the basics of aviation and work closely with them on the math that is required to determine fuel usage and flight times. The young pilots also learn basic airplane maintenance and flight instructions.

The students this year are almost equally divided between boys and girls.

“This is all done for kids in the Boys and Girls Club, hosted by Aero Legends, and this year supported by a grant from Western Lane Community Foundation and some generous donations by some Rotarians,” Tomeny said. “The students went to the Eugene Airport this week and on Friday they worked with pilots individually to go over safety checks before taking the plane up with their instructors.”

Chuck Trent is the director of the Boys and Girls Club of Western Lane County, and he is very pleased with the interest shown by the young people at the club in the Air Academy.

This is the third year the club has worked with Aero Legends to offer youth the chance to learn the basics of flying. The two-week seminar concluded on Friday with all of the students taking the controls of their individual aircraft and putting to use the information they have learned in the last two weeks.

The increasing interest in science related fields of study and the rising importance of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) curriculum for students is one of the main reasons Trent is such a fan of this particular program.

“STEM education is critical to the ultimate success of our young people, as STEM jobs in the United States are expected to grow nearly twice as fast as other fields,” he said. “Unfortunately, there is a shortage of both interested and adequately prepared kindergarten through 12th-grade students in STEM subjects, especially among minority youth and young women.”

While the long term need for scientists and engineers is one of the main reasons for the Air Academy, there is the more basic goal for Trent and Tomeny — the two just want the participants and their families to have some fun while learning.

The two-week class schedule included a celebration of the conclusion of this academy and all the work done by the student pilots.

“Friday is going to be really cool,” Trent said. “We are going to use a taxi formation that is used in air shows and the kids will fly from 9 to 11 a.m. I’ll be out on the flight apron with a radio so that parents can listen in as the kids fly the course they plotted and make all the radio calls. We will have a graduation ceremony after the last plane lands, followed by a BBQ for the families and friends of the kiddos.”

For more information on the Florence Air Academy and other after school programs, contact Boys and Girls Club of Western Lane County at 541-902-0304 and