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Lakeland Aeroclub Helps Teens Build Futures

By Megan Esau

July 26, 2016 - The Lakeland Aeroclub, a group of six young men from Lakeland, Florida, both pilots and aspiring pilots, has returned to EAA AirVenture Oshkosh to participate in the convention and be a positive example for youth in aviation.

This is the youngest and freshest group of teens that President Mike Zidziunas has brought to AirVenture; four are private pilots, one will take his checkride as soon as he returns home, and one is building dual instruction time.

The club was formed as a way to make flying instruction more affordable for youth interested in aviation and as a next step for those who participate in EAA’s Young Eagles program. For every six hours volunteered, members get an hour of free flying time in the airplane of their choice.

“We are not only getting kids interested in flying, we’re getting them flying,” Zidziunas said.

He said the program is a great way for the teens to grow into roles that carry responsibility. They clean and maintain their own hangar, have volunteered as crewmembers for the Ford Tri-Motor rides at Sun ’n Fun, and have the opportunity to restore aircraft.

EAA Tri-Motor captain Cody Welch heard of the Lakeland Aeroclub and decided he wanted to make a donation — his 1930 Taylorcraft. “He drove it down and said this is the plane my mother soloed in.” Zidziunas said. “We’re hoping to get it finished to bring to AirVenture next year.”

The formula the club uses is working. Phillip Herrington, who flew to Oshkosh with the Lakeland Aeroclub in 2016, now flies right seat in a CRJ900 for Delta.

Current members also plan to use the club to start building aviation careers.

“It gives me opportunities to learn new things that I can continue on through an aviation career,” said 17-year-old Tyson Trentham, who received his private pilot’s certificate just three weeks ago. “Short term right now is to keep working for my ratings. I want to get my instrument rating and I’m almost done with my tailwheel endorsement.”

Eighteen-year-old PJ Ohsiek, who is attending AirVenture for the first time, plans to use what he’s learned from the club when he joins the Air Force or the Navy. He summed up the spirit and drive of the group in the simplest terms: “We’re just a couple kids wanting to fly.”

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