From designing paper airplanes to performing pre-flight checks, the annual Double Eagle Aviation Adventure summer program gives teens a week of hands-on experience that opens their eyes to an array of careers in aviation.
The program is run at Double Eagle Airport on Albuquerque’s far West Side by members of the Experimental Aviation Association (EAA) Chapter 179. The EAA is a national organization of enthusiasts – many of whom build their own planes from kits or plans – who are eager to share their passion for aviation.
“Many of our members are ex-Air Force or ex-commercial pilots,” said summer program director Joyce Woods, who flies a Cessna 172.
The program gives high school students ages 14 to 17 years old an opportunity to talk to pilots, and to learn about aerodynamics, aircraft design and navigation. They get to sit in the cockpit of a small plane and handle the controls, even getting a chance to go aloft.
On their first morning, the schedule for the 24 students participating this year included learning the phonetic alphabet, as in “alpha, bravo, charlie, etc.,” aerodynamics and a preflight check. For the latter, the students were divided into groups of three. EAA members who brought their own planes to the site worked directly with the students, pointing out each item on individual aircraft.
As they worked through the preflight checklist, pilot David Otero showed his students, Parker Engel, 15, Michaela Horton, 16, and Zachary Andrews, 17, how to take a fuel sample from his Vans RV7 two-seater craft to check for condensation or other hazards.
“I’ve always been interested in planes, every since I was very young,” Engel said.
Nearby, Lee Otto pointed out the control features on the wings of the Vans RV10 four-seater craft he built, and explained how they worked.
Former U.S. Air Force and Delta Air Lines pilot Dick Nichols let Ryan Clark, 15, and Taylor Jenkins, 14, sit in the cockpit of the two-seater Rans S-16 Skekari he built.
The schedule for the rest of the weeklong program included a workshop on riveting, talks on maintenance and avionics, communications and radio practice. It culminated with each student getting to take to the skies with one of the volunteer pilots.
Back to help
The program can light a fire in some young participants who go on to pursue aviation-related studies and careers. Former program participant Ryan Moloney, 17, is back this year helping to teach compass navigation. He expects to graduate from Southwest Secondary Learning Center next year and plans to take courses at Central New Mexico Community College toward a career in aircraft frame and power plant maintenance.
“As long as there is a demand for airplanes, there’ll be a demand for someone to fix them,” Moloney said.
CNM has an aviation technology program at its Advanced Technology Center at 4700 Alameda NE that prepares students for certification as a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) airframe and/or power plant technician.
“In CNM’s most recent data from 2014, 90 percent of CNM graduates from the program were gaining employment in the field,” said CNM spokesman Brad Moore.
Another former student who is helping the instruction team this year, Ashley Fried, 16, started flying remote-controled model airplanes with her father when she was in elementary school. Fried experienced her first flight in a small plane when she was 14 through the EAA’s Young Eagle program that gives youngsters a free flight to introduce them to aviation.
“I caught the bug right away,” Fried said.
The Albuquerque EAA Chapter 179 hosts Young Eagles Flight Rallies throughout the year at either Double Eagle II Airport or Moriarty Municipal Airport. EAA 179 volunteers also participate with neighboring chapters that sponsor rallies at Los Alamos, Los Lunas, Santa Fe and Taos.
Fried attended the EAA summer program two years ago and has now set her sights on becoming an aerospace engineer. She hopes to start by earning a mechanical engineering degree at the University of New Mexico after graduating from Volcano Vista High.
Fried and Moloney said the EAA program opened their eyes to all kinds of possibilities in aviation.
“From air traffic controllers to mechanics, engineers, civil engineers – it’s a broad field,” Fried said.