Youngsters in the Aviation Career Education Summer Academy took off into the blue sky over St. Croix on Wednesday piloting a two-seater Diamond DA20 and four-seater Diamond DA40. The students did actual hands on flight training and flew over the island in a brisk wind and brought the little planes back down.
“It was thrilling taking the controls and flying,” said Dylan Schjang, a 13-year-old St. Croix Central High School student. “The wind made it a little challenging, but in the end it came out good. I had a lot fun and the experience was amazing.”
St. Croix Educational Complex student Natasha Sinanan, 15, said her flight went very smooth. “It was so exciting and fun. I’d love to try it again,” Sinanan said.
Phi-Jah Merchant,11, said it’s easy flying using a joystick. “It was a lot of fun,” the John H. Woodson Junior High School student said. “I liked seeing the island.”
For the third year Cenita Heywood of the V.I. Chapter Tuskegee Airmen has helped organize the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals ACE Aviation Career Academy. The last two years the academy was held on St. Thomas.
There were 22 students who did actual hands on flight training Wednesday. They also toured the fire station at the airport, the V.I. Port Authority and ticket counters, and they watched plane inspections.
Bohlke International Airways hosted the pilot immersion experience for OBAP and the St. Croix Ace Academy at the Henry E. Rohlsen Airport.
Flight instruction was given by CFI Steve Friedman, resident, in the two-seater Diamond DA20 and CFI/general manager Sam Black in the four-seater Diamond DA40.
Bohlke’s Flight School housed the students for the day and featured several speakers: Grace Baptiste, manager of St. Croix Air Traffic Control Tower; David Scott, air traffic controller; and Bill Bohlke Sr. talked to students about building a career in aviation.
Randall Rochon, director of St. Croix OBAP and a United Airlines pilot, said there are jobs out there for pilots – the students just have to follow their dreams and be persistent.
OPAB instructor Granville Smith, who is from St. Thomas and flies for Cape Air out of Boston, said he looks back and sees where he was not long ago. “I’m able to tell them, ‘If I made it, they can too,’” Smith said.
Also helping with the program was Jet Blue pilot Marcus Williams and United Airlines pilot Christopher Floyd.
The students, ages 11 to 18, also have bookwork to complete by Friday at the St. Croix Career and Technical Education Complex. They learned about the history of aviation, aerodynamics, career opportunities, resume writing and how to interview for jobs.
Heywood said the V.I. Chapter Tuskegee Airmen Youth Aviation Club and Aviation academy at CTEC enhances the students learning experience, providing opportunities to attend flying camps in the summer at aviation programs across the country. The organization exposes the students to the hundreds of careers in aviation and they meet people working in aviation.
A reception was held Sunday to meet and greet the OBAP members who have volunteered their time to work with the youth of the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Funding comes from Hovensa, College Access Grant, and OBAP waived the registration fee for the students