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Young Aviators Fly-In delivers fun, fellowship, flying

Mentors give first flights to 83 youngsters

The food, fun, flying, and fellowship were amped up for an estimated 500 young and “young at heart” aviators who attended the Young Aviators Fly-In at Triple Tree Aerodrome June 21 to 23. The event was created by young pilots as part of aviation’s youth movement.

  • Savanah Ritch, left, enjoys an ice cream after making her first grass strip landing at Triple Tree Aerodrome with private pilot Mia Langford. The two young women flew a Cessna 150 named 'Rosalie' that belongs to Ritch's grandfather. Photo by David Tulis.
  • An open cockpit Lockwood AirCam was a popular sightseeing aircraft during the Young Aviators Fly-In at Triple Tree Aerodrome, which drew more than 300 to Woodruff, South Carolina, June 21 to 23. Photo by David Tulis.
  • Van's Aircraft RV-12 builder Pat Finucane straps in for a Young Eagles flight with Houston Proveaux, 9, who was one of more than 83 youngsters to take their first flights in a general aviation aircraft. Photo by David Tulis.
  • Young Aviators Fly-In co-founder Cayla McLeod is framed by a North American P-51 Mustang owned by Triple Tree Aerodrome founder Pat Hartness, who invited college-aged youth to enjoy the immaculate premises for a weekend of fun, camaraderie, and aviation. Photo by David Tulis.
  • A Piper Cherokee takes off from the turf runway at Triple Tree Aerodrome in Woodruff, South Carolina. Photo by David Tulis.
  • Savanah Ritch, of Monroe, North Carolina, made her first grass strip landing at Triple Tree Aerodrome with private pilot Mia Langford, left, of Charlotte, North Carolina. The two women flew a Cessna 150 named 'Rosalie' that belongs to Ritch's grandfather. Photo by David Tulis.
  • A family captures a moment during the Young Aviators Fly-In. Photo by David Tulis.
  • Pam Dristy makes a photo of her stuffed bear Mowgli as a pilot lands on the 7,000-foot-long turf runway at Triple Tree Aerodrome. Photo by David Tulis.
  • A pilot in a Nanchang CJ-6 makes a low approach during the Young Aviators Fly-In. Photo by David Tulis.
  • AOPA social media guru Kevin Cortes tied down a Cessna 182. Photo by David Tulis.
  • Kayla Lindsey attends the Young Aviators Fly-In with her daughter Brianna, 5, where other family members experienced their first general aviation flight. Photo by David Tulis.
  • Pilots and attendees gather for the Young Aviators Fly-In at Triple Tree Aerodrome in Woodruff, South Carolina, June 21 to 23. Photo by David Tulis.
  • A Cessna 172 taxis in ahead of an approaching thunderstorm at Triple Tree Aerodrome. Photo by David Tulis.
  • 'Young at heart' Cessna Cardinal pilot Mike Sullivan, 69, wins a prize drawing during the Young Aviators Fly-In dinner. Photo by David Tulis.
  • Sunset flights in a Van's Aircraft RV-12 and an open-cockpit Lockwood AirCam were popular with young pilots after a cookout dinner and live music from a blues band. Photo by David Tulis.
  • The sun sets in the rolling hills near Triple Tree Aerodrome in Woodruff, South Carolina, during a scenic flight from a Lockwood AirCam. Photo by David Tulis.

The second annual fly-in was co-founded by Cayla McLeod, a self-described “taildragger girl” and private pilot from Georgia, and commercial pilot Ryan Hunt. The excitement shared by aviation-minded youth and their mentors during the inaugural event impressed Triple Tree patriarch Pat Hartness so much that he opened the Woodruff, South Carolina, airfield for them to return for what McLeod and Hunt predicted would become a “young person’s Oshkosh.”

Private pilot Mia Langford, 23, attended the 2018 fly-in and showed her commitment by flying in a friend, returning home to North Carolina, and then flying back with student pilot Savanah Ritch, 20, for more activities. “That’s my way of sharing aviation—I bring people everywhere,” said Langford as she snacked on an ice cream cone near the tent they pitched under the shade of tall hardwoods.

Ritch recalled her first landing on a grass runway behind the controls of her family’s Cessna 150 and beamed with pride. “It was so much fun!” she exclaimed while viewing dozens of aircraft that dotted the camping area near a pond, stream, and extensive grass taxiways.

Deluxe restroom and shower facilities made camping a good choice for many pilots, and a gazebo at the approach end of Runway 3 was perfect for airplane watching and for judging landings.

Pilots Josh Buchsbaum and Ryan McCormack (not pictured) park their Cessna 150 in the trees before camping out during the Young Aviators Fly-In at Triple Tree Aerodrome in Woodruff, South Carolina. Photo by David Tulis.

AOPA social media guru Kevin Cortes and I flew down from Frederick, Maryland, after a morning delay due to strong winds that would have been uncomfortable in our fully loaded Cessna 182. After several hours of sporty flying, we judged our landing in the Skylane as a solid seven out of 10 at Hartness’s 7,000-foot-long bent-grass runway. There’s videotape evidence from four cameras proving that it wasn’t terrible—but there is ample room for improvement.

After setting up his tent, Cortes shared Instagram stories and social media handles with the youth movement, and we met the influencers that contributed to the fly-in’s continuing success.

Cortes scored extra points for braving a raging late-night thunderstorm. “It was really bad,” he confided. “At one point I saw people jumping out of their tents and into their airplanes.”

Our team also included AOPA Air Safety Institute video producers Tyler Pangborn and Kurt Sensenbrenner, who waited out the first day’s weather before embarking on a four-hour cross country in a yellow Cessna 172 that is affectionately known as “The Unicorn,” and they joined Cortes camping out. Since I was a “young at heart” pilot with a bag of camera gear that needed charging, I opted for a Triple Tree discounted partner motel where I could also scout the weather.

Young aviators capture the moment as a flight of three aircraft make a low approach during sunset flights above the 7,000-foot-long grass landing strip. Photo by David Tulis.

AOPA provided two prize giveaway backpacks and sponsored a Saturday night dinner for about 150 overnight attendees and volunteers. A live blues band provided entertainment, and complimentary AOPA eightieth-anniversary stickers were so popular that we gave them all away.

The weekend event was designed to be a low-cost affair that would appeal to college-aged pilots who are typically on a strict budget. Attendees were responsible for only one meal, and the remainder of the tab was picked up by other aviation organizations and businesses including the Experimental Aircraft Association, the Academy of Model Aeronautics, Chick-fil-A, Textron Aviation, UPS, Waffle House, and others.

McLeod recalled that her interest in aviation began after a Young Eagles flight at age 15, so she said she was tickled to learn from EAA Chapter 249 Young Eagles flight chair Dale Ellis that his crew of “14 pilots and their airplanes” organized 83 first flights for youth—a new chapter record. Ellis thanked them and “countless EAA members and friends” who helped out on the ground with permission slips, hydration, and other tasks to keep the youths happy and the flights safe.

Private pilot Felix Lopez teaches his daughter Vivian about the fabric-and-tube design of a Boeing Stearman at Triple Tree Aerodrome in Woodruff, South Carolina. Photo by David Tulis.

Private pilot Felix Lopez brought his entire family, including his wife and three daughters, “to be part of this, it’s a really exciting event,” he said while inspecting a Boeing Stearman biplane parked among a restored Spartan Executive, a North American P–51 Mustang, and dozens of RC aircraft. “My daughters got to fly with a female pilot, and it was an unbelievable flight” for them.

Chart it All founder Trevor Simoneau soloed in Florida on June 21—the day of his sixteenth birthday—and then flew to the Appalachian foothills to celebrate with fellow aviation-minded youth. He said he was pleased to see hundreds of young people soaking up aviation and he offered advice for those who might not know how to get started. “Go to your local airport and network, meet people, and make contacts. The thing that I love about aviation is that everyone is so generous because at one point they were in your same position. Take advantage of that, for sure.”

Sunset flights in a Van’s Aircraft RV–12 and a Lockwood AirCam heralded the oncoming evening as the sky turned orange, pink, and violet to a tune of croaking frogs punctuated by low approaches with music from Carolina Coast Band filtering through the trees.

Aviation maintenance student, Cessna 140 owner, and instrument-rated private pilot with commercial glider privileges Joseph Lacharite joined McLeod, Langford, Ritch, and a dozen others at the north end of the landing strip to make photos, chat, and to get to know each other better.

Lacharite said sailplane flying could be more cost-efficient for some young people and in his case, it led to additional certificates and ratings. He transitioned to powered fixed-wing aircraft and “just added my instrument rating about two weeks ago.” He said he flew from Florida to the Young Aviators Fly-In “to see what it’s all about. It’s good that we’re exposing a lot of people to aviation, and I think we can try to make aviation more feasible” for them too.

David Tulis

David Tulis

Associate Editor Web/ePilot
AOPA Associate Editor Web/ePilot David Tulis joined AOPA in 2015 and is a private pilot with single-engine land and sea ratings and a tailwheel endorsement. He is also a certificated remote pilot and co-host of the award-winning AOPA Hangar Talk podcast. David enjoys vintage aircraft and photography.
Topics: Public Benefit Flying, Fly in, Training and Safety

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