High altitude fun


July 15--Though he didn't show it, when Clint Reynolds arrived at the Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport on Sunday, he was nervous.

About a half hour later, when he took the controls of the 1968 Cessna 182 from pilot Jenny French at about 1500 feet above the Weyers Cave area, he looked like he'd been flying all his life.

"I got to fly from Harrisonburg to Staunton," Reynolds said. "I thought it was cool!"

Reynolds had never flown in any kind of aircraft ever.

Reynolds was offered a free flight in conjunction with the Shenandoah Valley Ultralight and Light Sport Flight Festival scheduled from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at the SVRA.

"Everything looks small," Reynolds said. "I flew the plane over Robert E. Lee High School and Gypsy Hill Park. I saw Lake Tams, my house and [my] friend's house."

French said that is something that she always tries to do when she takes kids up on flights.

"They get excited when they get to see what they usually only view from the ground," she said. "If they can recognize their school or home, they think it looks different from the air."

French said that as part of the aerial tour, she usually tries to share some important information with the kids, depending on how busy the festival might be.

Sunday's info session shared that the Cessna held 38 gallons of gasoline in each wing. On an average flight, the plane can use about 12-15 gallons of fuel per hour and the speed can run about 145 miles an hour.

"The letter and the numbers on the side of the plane are the identification numbers or the call numbers. The N on the side stands for North American," said French's husband, Scott, a pilot for 30 years. "If you have a plane from Canada it would have a C on the side with the numbers or a plane from Brazil it would have a B on the side with the numbers.

"If there's a long line, we usually have to forego some of the information," said Scott.

Val Laren, president of the Experimental Aircraft Association, said that at last year's inaugural event at New Market, they had about 1,000 visitors, with approximately 110 kids taking the free flights.

"We're hoping to give more kids the chance to fly this year," he said. "Last year, we had some people in lines, that we couldn't give rides to."

Along with free rides for youth from 8 to 17 years of age, the festival will host a wide range of ultralight and light sport aircraft that fly within the Shenandoah Valley skies: powered paragliders, powered parachutes, hot air balloons, hang gliders, trikes, gyrocopters, gliders and various sizes of fixed-wing aircraft. A WWII P-19 training plane will be available for rides as well.

"Flying is safer and less expensive than most people think," Larsen said. "Powered paragliders fly as slowly as 20 miles per hour and can be purchased for as little as $2,500 and can be carried in the trunk of a car."

Larsen said that youth can pursue their flight dreams further with training.

"Several kids are taking lessons at [Eagle's Nest Airport] Waynesboro," he said.

John Trissel, co-owner and manager of Eagles Nest Flight Services, said that his business offers lessons to kids and adults. Children must be 16 to solo and can get their pilot's license at 17, although he provides lessons to students at any age.

"Height is the limiting factor," he said. Pilots need to see over the dashboard of the plane.

Flying lessons are competency based, Trissel said, and competency is tested via oral, written and practical exams. The solo license issued by the Federal Aviation Authority is a medical exam, a physical, he said.

The length of time a student can expect to train to fly depends upon each student.

"Over the last 10 years that I have owned Eagles Nest, the average is about 6 to 9 months," said Trissel, attributing the wide range in training time to people's schedules and how they learn as individuals. "Some people are good with book learning but can't get a plane to go where they want and vice versa."

Fees are listed on Eagles Nest website and Trissel said that different payment plans are available. He estimated the pay-as-you go option at about $130 per lesson and send that buying hours in advance is actually cheaper.

"The faster you learn, the cheaper it can be," said Trissel.

Another option at Eagles Nest is the Shenandoah Valley Soaring club, which teaches people to fly gliders. Anyone interested in learning through SVS must be a member of the organization, according to its website and pay initiation fees plus dues. Junior fees include a $50 initiation fee and dues of $10 per month. Adult fees are $300 and $35 per month respectively.

No matter the cost, the R.E. Lee rising sophomore isn't considering becoming a pilot any time soon because of his recent tour above the county. He's looking forward, right now, to becoming an auto mechanic. But he's considering his options.

"At first I worried I might do something wrong, then I got the hang of it. At the end of the flight, I was comfortable," the teen said. "It was easier than I thought and the pilot said I did a good job and found my calling.

"I would do it again if I could."

If you go:

WHAT: Shenandoah Valley Ultralight and Light Sport Flight Festival

WHEN: from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at the Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport off Route 256 in Weyers Cave.

ADMISSION: Free, though some flight services are by fee. Teens 8 to 17 fly free.

MORE INFO: Shenandoah Valley Ultralight and Light Sport Flight Festival, http://www.sheandoahflightfestival.org; Eagles Nest Flight Services, http://www.eaglesnest.aero; Shenandoah Valley Soaring, http://www.svsoar.org; Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport, http://www.flyshd.com.