Soaring over the Siuslaw region, the new pilot grips the joystick, hands steady. A gust of wind tilts the aircraft ever-so-slightly to the left — the pilot has a small whiff of panic. They look over to their instructor who quells their fear; it’s going to be safe. The pilot steadies the plane, the instructor smiles. It’s time to soar.
The pilot’s age? 13 years old.
Starting Aug. 14, the teens of Boys and Girls Club of Western Lane County will have the opportunity to learn the ins-and-outs of aeronautic adventures through the Florence Air Academy (FAA) and its inaugural class.
This two-week course, provided free to teens who sign up, will be teaching the power and freedom of flight.
The breadth of the topics covered in FAA’s class is massive: Principals of flight, airplane mechanics, meteorology, aviation charts and maps, drones, civil air patrol, eclipses and how to plan a cross country flight.
“We’ve got some really cool and interesting things that we’re trying to get together to keep the kids entertained,” said pilot Sam Spayd, co-creator of the academy and class. “I’ve mixed it up so there’s some classroom stuff, and then there’s some things when we get them out around the airport and doing things.”
Spayd said the “hands-on” approach will include air traffic control, drone demonstrations and even radio-controlled dogfights.
“The radio-controlled group is going to do a demo where they’ll have streamers on the planes and do dogfights as the kids pilot,” Spayd explained.
The whole class will end with the students having the opportunity to fly an actual airplane.
The idea for the program started with local pilots Spayd and Terry Tomeny, who fly for the local biplane ride attraction Aero Legends, which Tomeny owns.
Spayd, who sits on Florence’s Airport Advisory Committee, was searching for a way to have the airfield become more a part of the community.
“A lot of people aren’t even aware that we do anything at the airport,” he said. “We want more people involved in a positive way.”
Spayd found a program in Grants Pass that taught kids the basics of aeronautics, but the topics were limited; it only had two classes and the kids didn’t get to fly.
“That was nothing like we’re going to do,” Spayd said. “They had a two-day course. We’re going all out.”
While the high-flying excitement will keep the youth engaged, the point of the program is to inspire the teens to do more than what they think is expected of them.
Boys and Girls Club Director Jack Davis said, “We want to get the kids in the club not to just focus on graduating, but focus on what life skills they want to develop to live the kind of life that they want. That allows these kids to become a better part of the community, and really feel a part of the community.
“Most kids of this age just see their world, but there’s so much more out there.”
In addition, aviation goes just beyond being a pilot, Spayd explained.
“I’ve got two flight attendants coming in to talk to the kids,” he said. “I have an airplane mechanic. I’ve got someone from the tower in Eugene. There’s so many different areas that aviation involves.”
FAA will even bring in two former Siuslaw High School students who went on to become pilots for Delta and American airlines.
“It’s a way of setting a spark in the kids,” Spayd said.
“We don’t want to see these kids just graduate,” Davis added. “We want to see them graduate with a purpose for the rest of their lives so they can be more.”
But to set that spark, Davis and Spayd believe, it doesn’t hurt to get the students up in the air.
The program is free to all teens that have signed up for the Boys and Girls Club teen program.
For more information, call 541-902-0304 or visit the Boys and Girls Teen Center at 1501 Airport Road.