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Winter Haven EAA chapter sets example
for young craftsmen


EAA founder Paul Poberezny, center, with some of the youngsters that EAA Chapter 229 helped build a Zenair kitplane. Photo Bill De Brauwer.

It’s a disturbing trend,. but the average aviation enthusiast isn’t getting any younger. To combat this associations like EAA have created programs like Young Eagles to encourage young people to learn to fly.
The problem of age was painfully aware to members of EAA Chapter 229’s Falcon Wing in Winter Haven, Fla.
"A couple of years ago, we looked around the room at a chapter meeting and saw a sea of bald heads ... and no kids," explained Dick Gibbs, the chapter's president.
What made these flyers different is that they decided to do something other than just talking about it.
"When we were young, we used to spend a day scrubbing a hangar floor just to get an hour's dual," Gibbs said. 'We'd do anything around a field just to get to fly."
"But those opportunities just aren't there now, what with security concerns and the like."
So the chapter members sought a modem equivalent of the blood, sweat and tears experience ... and decided they would encourage a group of youngsters to build and fly a Zenair Zodiac kitplane.
"We saw a bunch of essentially disenfranchised kids who wanted to fly but wouldn't have thought of trying to afford lessons. In return for a certain number of hours spent building the aircraft, we'd promise to get them a flying license," Gibbs explained.
Helping the kids build their own aircraft was a key part of the chapter's vision.
'We didn't just want to embark on flight training," Gibbs, said. "First if there’s no pain, there's no gain: Second, we wanted to build some equity so we could put another bunch of kids through the program."
Matt Phillips, now 20, joined the program with his younger brother Andy after
hearing about it through a Boy Scout troop.
"About 20 kids applied - between 12 to 18 years old - and nobody was excluded,' he said.
"I built one wing, and did some work on the fuselage,' Phillips said. 'You can tell the left wing is the better-built one," he joked.
Although he's still needs to solo. Matt - now an aerospace engineering student - was busy manning the chapter’s stand where the Zenair Zodiac is on show. The chapter is encouraging supporters to sign up with a $10 contribution to the Falcon Wing. His brother is already in flight training and flew his first solo a year ago.
The program is about more than just building and flying an aircraft. It is designed to instill confidence, as well.
Gibbs tells of how 15-year-old Layla Embrey screamed in surprise the first time she switched on an electric drill. Now she confidently fits skin panels without a second's hesitation. Another time, after she stripped down an 85 horsepower Continental, Embrey looked as though she’d been dipped in a tar pit, he said.
"Enthusiasm’s not something we have to teach,', Dick said. "Keeping clean is!"
Dick’s hope is that the project will grow across the country. Chapters are about to start projects in Batavia, N.Y., and Santa Monica, Calif., and another has already started construction in south east Ohio, he understands.
Gibb is also quick to dismiss parallels with the Young Eagles program.
"This is a significant step further than the Young Eagles," he said. ".We'd like to see it spread."
"We're going to have some 15 to 18 teenage pilots in the air who would not otherwise have been pilots. There are 800 chapters and if each of them could get 10 teenagers in the air through the Falcons that would be 8,000 new teenage pilots a year."
"The first month or so the kids just thought it was fun. Then I told them, 'Do you realize what you're working on? One day you're going to be flying in this. You'd better make sure what you’re doing is done damn well ... and make sure what the person next to you is doing is done damn well."

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NOTE: This article represents the viewpoints of the author, and not necessarily those of Zenith Aircraft Company.

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