Sitting at long tables inside a large, blue metal building, a group of teens, ages 14-17, listened intently to several experts talk of the inner workings of sport aviation and aerospace. They were at the Independence State Airport on Saturday morning for the fourth annual teen aviation weekend.
A total of 14 youths from across the Mid-Valley gathered in the Experimental Aircraft Association building within the air park Saturday to examine model planes and listen to aviation presentations. About 20 aviation experts took turns speaking to the students about the importance of each aspect of aviation and the mechanics behind flight.
Many of the young students have hopes of pursuing careers in aviation. At the weekendlong teen aviation event, they were just beginning their quest to accomplish their dreams.
During the weekend, the teens are learning about sport aviation and aerospace, getting hands-on experience building model planes and flying simulators, and learning about the history of aviation.
Alan Cleveland, an airplane pilot and longtime member of the EAA, spoke about the importance of the old aviation videos, now available on YouTube. Cleveland was born and raised in the Willamette Valley and began flying planes about 30 years ago.
“They were old videos when I was young,” he said. “So they’re ancient now, but they’re still important.”
Cleveland’s wife, Margaret Cleveland, is the webmaster for Chapter 292 of the Experimental Aircraft Association. She helped organize this year’s event.
“We really want to get the kids involved in aviation when they’re young,” Cleveland said. “We need to bring more kids in. We need to reach out.”
The Clevelands have lived in the air park that borders the Independence State Airport for the past 16 years and say they can’t imagine a better community.
“It’s a place unlike any other,” Margaret Cleveland said. “We’re a pretty close group, and most of us have some sort of love or passion for planes.”
Margaret and Alan Cleveland, both extremely passionate about all things airplane, moved to the park in 1999 because they wanted to be more involved with the their aviation chapter. The park is made up of about 290 homes that sit across a small street from the runway of the airport.
The small community, which lies within the Independence city limits just south of the downtown area, is unique. Garages house not only cars, but small airplanes, as well. Daily meetings are held in the large airplane hangars, and members of the neighborhood don’t even have to cross a city street to get to the runway.
The nearly 300 residences communicate via a “block herald system,” when lets them email any member of the air park’s homeowners association if they have a question or concern. A restaurant within the air park, the Starduster Cafe, was full of breakfast customers Saturday morning.
“We have doctors, engineers, dentist, you name it,” Margaret Cleveland said. “You can call any single one of our residents, and within hours help will come. It’s such a special place.”
The Clevelands’ grandson, 15-year-old Justin Williams, has been accompanying them on plane rides since he was an infant. Williams, who grew up in the air park, now lives in Sparks, Nevada, with his parents and younger sister, but he tries to visit Independence as much as he can to continue is aviation education. He attended this weekend’s classes.
According to the Federal Aviation Administration, a pilot must be at least 16 to get a student pilot’s license and fly a plane alone. However, a youth can take flying lessons before that. Williams has been taking lessons from his grandfather nearly his entire life and plans to get his pilot’s license as soon as possible following his 17th birthday.
“I grew up here, on this airport,” Williams said. “I’ve pretty much had private lessons my whole life.”
Williams, who plans for a career in aviation someday, said that one of his favorite parts about flying is the unique perspective in which you see the world.
“The sights are cool things that you don’t get to see from a car,” Williams said. “Like the way a mountain reflects off of the water, you get to see it from a different angle that you never normally would.”
Teens attending the weekend program are attending several lectures on aerodynamics, but they also get to build and fly remote control airplanes, identify parts of an airplane and test-fly Delta Darts. Depending on the weather Sunday morning, the students might even get to fly inside a handmade airplane with the person who pieced it together.
Joy Sode, 16, of Independence, has attended the last two teen aviation weekend classes and is trying to get her pilot’s license in hopes of joining the Coast Guard when she turns 18.
“I want to be a Coast Guard pilot and fly helicopters,” she said. “I’ve always been interested in planes, so I just Googled ‘how to become a pilot.'”
Margaret Cleveland, whose parents were among the first people to build a home at the air park, said she and her fellow aviation lovers want to inspire kids to become involved with the aviation world.
“We want keep the kids interested in it because so much of the aviation community is graying, so to speak,” she said. “The age bracket is an older one, and we need to bring in the younger people to keep the dream going.”
For many of the people involved in teen aviation weekend, the substance of the classes is more important now than ever before. Margaret Cleveland would even argue that aviation is one of the most important parts of the community.
“I mean, what other organization plays so many different roles all over the world?” she asked. “The future of aviation is with them. We want them to be excited about that.”