By LIBBY STANFORD, Post and courier
SUMMERVILLE, SC (AP) – Minette du Plooy wants to fly.
The 18-year-old from Prosper, Texas, intends to become an Air Force pilot. She’s so committed that she convinced her parents to drive three days and book a hotel in Charleston so that she could spend two weeks learning from the instructors at a CRAFT flight simulation and training camp.
The decision, and everything that came with it, was worth it.
“It’s amazing,” du Plooy said. “I wouldn’t change from giving up two weeks of my summer to do this.”
Seven high school students and recent graduates are attending CRAFT’s first-ever summer camp July 11-23 at Summerville Airport. Most of the students come from all over South Carolina, with Du Plooy the only person crossing state lines.
For the inaugural camp, the flight school contacted the Lowcountry Aviation Association and Charleston Southern University to find students interested in participating.
The goal of the camp is to give high school students a head start on obtaining a pilot’s license, said Jay Aldea, co-owner of CRAFT. At the end of the camp, students are approved to take the Federal Aviation Administration’s private pilot exam.
Students enter the camp at any skill level. While some entered with hours of flying experience, others, like du Plooy, had only been on a plane once or twice.
Students spend each day cycling through three different types of lessons: ground school, simulator training, and flight.
At ground school, students learn everything they need to know for their written exam. They spend about four hours tucked away in a small classroom at the airport, taking lessons from an instructor.
The school teaches them the mechanics of the airplane and the rules and regulations. While this might seem like the most boring part of the whole experience, ground schools lay the foundation for what students will do later.
“It doesn’t make a lot of sense to sit over there in the school on the ground,” du Plooy said. “But the next day, when you get on a plane, it makes so much more sense. Everything fits together perfectly. “
Students then spend an hour or two in a simulator. They take the wheel of a large metal box fitted out like the cockpit of an airplane and resembling an arcade game.
They learn to fly in various conditions with limited visibility, using only aircraft tools to navigate.
With these skills in hand, the students are then able to start flying. By the end of the camps, they will have approximately 12 hours of flight experience with an instructor and learn the basics including navigation, turns and acceleration. They work their way into slow flight, where the speed is slow enough for the pilot to have full control.
Slow flight is crucial because it is used whenever a pilot takes off or lands the aircraft.
“It feels like the plane is on a stick or a needle,” Aldea said. “Having them comfortable in this type of environment or this type of flight regime allows them to control the aircraft with confidence.”
In the end, students should have approval to do their solo flight, Aldea said. The solo flight and the mention for the private pilot exam are the first steps in a pilot’s career.
The camp was also eye-opening for its four instructors. Todd Brooks, who came to Charleston from the Washington, DC area for the camp, said he enjoyed the thrill of proxy stealing through his students.
“It’s usually their first time on a small plane,” he said. “You see the lights go on a bit and they’re like ‘wow, that’s so cool.’ “
Aldea hopes the camp can give students some idea of their options when it comes to becoming a pilot.
“There are a lot of misconceptions about being a pilot and what it entails,” he said. “A lot of people think they have to go the military route, and that’s not necessarily the case.”
For many, pursuing a career as a pilot can be daunting and unattainable. Obtaining a pilot’s license is no easy task and can mean thousands of dollars in education. The flight camp alone costs students about $ 3,000.
However, through ties to the Lowcountry Aviation Association and other groups like Women in Aviation, most students were able to secure scholarships and have full program coverage.
Emmanuel Peterson, a Georgetown High School student, said he was able to attend the camp on a scholarship. Without this opportunity, he is not sure he can afford a flight school to do his solo flight.
Ultimately, Peterson wants to be a commercial pilot, a job no one in his family has done before.
“It’s a career that exists… being able to go to new places every day,” he said. “It’s like a thrill.”
Aldea said the camp is also an opportunity to network with college flight programs. The school has a partnership with Charleston Southern University, which is the first school in the state to offer a college pilot program.
“A lot of people won’t be exposed to this stuff from the start,” Aldea said. “It’s part of our mission here to expose students to a potential profession and lifestyle. “
Although limited by space, CRAFT hopes to expand the camp in the coming years to include more students, Aldea said.
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