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Teen Pilots Fly to EAA AirVenture from Florida

The teen pilots stand in front of an aircraft that they restored.

By Megan Esau

July 20, 2015 - Ten young men under the age of 21, all pilots or soon-to-be pilots in the Lakeland Aeroclub of Florida, made their way to EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2015 on a journey that totaled 13 hours of flight time.

The club, based at the Sun ‘n Fun Fly-In grounds, is a high school group where young aviation enthusiasts can learn to fly and restore old aircraft.

Sun ‘n Fun’s scholarship opportunities also help fund flight students in acquiring their pilot’s certificates.

For some, it is their first time attending the World’s Greatest Aviation Celebration while others are more seasoned visitors, including 20-year-old Phillip Herrington.

Phillip, who is attending AirVenture for the fifth time, said the movie Top Gun inspired him to become a combat naval aviator, and that the Lakeland Aeroclub has helped him get on track.

“I come from a family of 10,” Phillip said. “Dad has a blue collar job, mom has a blue collar job. With Sun ‘n Fun’s scholarship opportunities it made my career and future a reality.”

Phillip is in his last year of college studying aerospace administration and working toward becoming a professional pilot. 

He said he came to AirVenture to spread the message that it is possible for young people to attain their private pilot’s certificate.

“It’s possible,” Phillip said. “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.”

Lakeland Aeroclub’s youngest member and first-time attendee of AirVenture, 16-year-old Michael Jenkins, had a similar message.

“It’s possible to fly at any age, you don’t have to be old,” he said.  “Follow your dreams and do what you want to do, don’t let people try and knock you down.”

Michael is waiting to get his pilot’s certificate on his 17th birthday and hopes to attend the Air Force Academy after high school.

“I’ve been going to Sun ‘n Fun, and watching the fighter jets really inspired me so now my dream is to go into the Air Force and fly fighter jets,” Michael said.

Mike Zidzunias, who flew in with the club and owns the 1956 Piper Pacer flown in by the group, said the club helps give young aviators an identity.

“We were producing pilots through our scholarship program and they really didn’t fit into the groups with the older guys,” Mike said. “They just kind of needed their own club, and now some of these guys have flown young eagles—they’re doing all kinds of stuff.”

He said the most rewarding part of working with the group, all EAA and AOPA members, is watching them develop from kids into young adults filling roles that carry responsibility.

“It changes them, especially this trip,” Mike said. “They really grow up. They get responsibility, they get it. They become successful.”

Mike said getting these and other young adults hooked on aviation is vital to ensuring the future of recreational flight.

“They are the future volunteers for AirVenture, for Sun ‘n Fun, for all of these aviation events,” he said. “The reality is we need these young people to get involved and fall in love with EAA as I did and fall in love with these events.”

According to Mike, bringing the Lakeland Aeroclub to AirVenture is a big part of sparking the youth’s dedication.

“In a world where kids aren’t joiners, these guys come here and they see it, and they realize that the only way it’s going to continue is if they become a member, if they get involved, if they volunteer, if they learn about it.”

The teen pilots can be found Wednesday at 10 a.m. at the Vintage Red Barn, Thursday at 10:30 a.m. at the Brown Arch, and Thursday at 3 p.m. at the AOPA Exhibit Tent.

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