Thursday, July 27, 2017

Aerobatic pilot pays visit to North Idaho High School Aerospace group

SANDPOINT — The colorful stars on "Jacquie B" Warda's red, Extra 300 shone as she flew into the Sandpoint Airport to greet students in the North Idaho High School Aerospace Program, as well as several others who came out to meet the aerobatic pilot and see her moves.

As she rounded toward the group on the runway, the tail of the plane swerving around in true taildragger fashion, the words on the plane, "Ladies, it's time to fly," came into view. Warda said she has been flying for 30 years, and in 2003 she started her aerobatic career, becoming the first female pilot to enter the business at the age of 50. So for some aspiring local female pilots, like 31-year-old Lacey Barlow, Warda is an inspiration.

"Being in this field has been so inspiring to me," Barlow said. "People are following their dreams and, in the most literal sense, reaching for the stars, so it's just been a really energizing group of people to connect with." 

Unfortunately, Warda was unable to show off her skills or give aerobatic rides as planned in Sandpoint due to the width of the runway. She said 75-feet wide is minimum for her to land the plane because it is a taildragger, and adding a passenger in front of her would create some visibility issues. So the students each made plans to meet her at the Coeur d'Alene Airport over the next couple days.

In the meantime, Warda spent some time looking over the airplane some of the students built. The students recently finished the Zenith Zodiac CH601XL, which was a kit airplane donated to the high school program to help teach students the ins and outs of the aerospace industry.

Daniel Spencer, 17, one of the students who helped work on the plane, said they can't fly it because the group is waiting for FAA inspection.

"Hopefully that will happen soon so we can start testing," Spencer said. "It is legal, though, to do taxi tests, so we did some taxi tests to check the instruments and stuff. It went pretty well."

Monday's visit was the first time Warda flew into Sandpoint, but she has Skyped with some of the students who participate in the ground school three or four times over the years. She doesn't just talk to them about flying, though. She talks to them about goals and making choices.

"I would rather spend my energy trying to encourage young people to be good people," Warda said. "The flying is the easy part, but being a good person, being a responsible person, and being the kind of person other people want to look up to is more important to me. If you become that kind of person that others want to look up to, everything will come to you, everything will be easy for you."

Warda met Ken Larson, the program's pilot training and academic instructor, about eight years ago, she said, when he brought one of his former female students, Maggie Kirscher, to an air show Warda was performing in Twin Falls. It was Kirscher's first air show, Warda said, and Larson saw a female was flying. So he called Warda up and asked if she would meet with them at the show.

"I laughed and said, 'That's so silly, of course I will talk to you,'" Warda said. "We just became good friends and I couldn't not support him every time he called me."

Warda said the NIHSA program is "wonderful," and she wishes there were 100 other like Larson, teaching youth all about aerospace.

The NIHSA program consists of three sections — the Aces Aviation Workshop where the students are built the plane, a ground school held at Sandpoint High School where students get credit to learn to the basic information they need for pilot training, and flight training where the students learn how to fly and have the opportunity to obtain a pilot's license.

A sport pilot license, for flying light sport planes like the Zodiac the students are building, requires a minimum of 20 hours of flight training. The model currently in use for flight training is the same model as the plane they are building. A minimum of 40 hours of flight training is required for a private pilot license. Both require a knowledge exam and a checkride with an FAA inspector.

Students from several area schools are enrolled in the program, including Sandpoint Middle School, Sandpoint High School, Forrest Bird Charter School, Northwest Academy and home-school.

Jonah McGlothlin, 17, is a senior at Forrest Bird Charter School and has been working on his license for a couple months through the program. He became interested in the program after getting a free flight through Sandpoint's Experimental Aircraft Association, Chapter 1441, and the pilot let him fly the plane around a bit.

"I really liked it," he said matter-of-factly. "I'm hoping I can get up to commercial license and make a career out of it."

Lilly Falconer, 17, is a home-school student who started in the program in January. Her favorite part, she said, of course, is flying. She comes from a long line of pilots, from her grandfather to her great-great-grandfather, she said. She never really knew her grandfather, but when she was 8 years old, she went to his funeral and flew in a commercial plane to get there.

"When we went above the clouds, it was like a whole new world up there and I said, 'Oh man, I have got to do this for sure,'" Falconer said.

She plans on obtaining her commercial license and becoming a bush pilot in Alaska. Spencer also plans to become a bush pilot in Alaska and is 5.3 hours in on his license. He will initially get his private license, he said, and then build hours to get his commercial license.

Along with the plane the students built, two more small planes have been donated to the program. Most recently, the group obtained a 1945 Taylorcraft, which is now stripped down to the skeleton for the students to begin a new project.

"It's in great shape," said Barney Ballard, community outreach and career guidance for the program. "It has a wooden leading edge spar and it has a wooden trailing edge spar ... So it's a little bit of wood, and then aluminum and a little bit of steel. It's down to the basics and we are going to put it back together after we inspect everything."

Instead of building an engine for the plane, as they did with the Zodiac, they are going to find a used one and, after making sure it's in good shape, the group will install it in the plane, Ballard said. The group also obtained another small single-seat plane, which they plan to fix up and sell to help pay for some of the program's projects.


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