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Students of today prepare to become pilots of tomorrow

By JR Ortega
Aug. 11, 2010 at 3:11 a.m.

Kellie Davis, 18, of Victoria, walks around the Refugio Airport while she waits for the weather to clear so she can take a flight lesson. Davis takes lessons in a Cessna 172 from Hans Vandervlugt, the same instructor who taught her stepfather. She recently got her solo license and hopes to one day become a commerical pilot.

How to become eligible for piloting license

Be at least 16 years old. If you plan to pilot a glider or balloon, you must be at least 14 years old.

Can read, speak, and understand English.

Have a current third-class medical certificate.

REFUGIO - Engine failure at 2,000 feet.

Kellie Davis' shoulders tense as she attempts to land the Year SkyHawk four-seater plane.

Rain from a nearby storm limits the visibility of the Rooke Field runway but with a thud, Davis successfully lands the plane.

"That was terrifying," she said, sighing in relief as she unbuckled her seatbelt.

She's only 18, and is sure no matter what the age or gender, having the instructor shut off the engine as part of a flying lesson is one of the scariest parts about being a student pilot.

But if that's what the Victoria resident has to do to get to her final destination - she'll do it.

Davis, like other local student pilots, has become fascinated with the sky.

That fascination is a trend that has changed with the wind.

sky high

Davis remember sitting on her stepfather's lap and the feeling of flying low to the ground as he would crop dust the fields.

However she wants to become a commercial airline pilot, she said.

"You get away from all the craziness down here," she said, as she did a system check on the plane.

It was just three weeks ago that Davis got her solo license.

"They're such a rare breed," said Hans Vandervlugt, Davis' instructor, who coincidentally also taught her stepfather how to fly.

In 50 years of teaching aviation, Vandervlugt has seen a steady increase in young people interested in aviation.

There are many ways a student can become an airline pilot, he said.

Opportunities for people just out of high school and junior college look good for the next 10 to 15 years because they can receive piloting school through college, professional flight schools, civilian training programs, or fixed based operations at smaller airports, like the one in Refugio.

"For women the career opportunities have increased tremendously," he said. "It used to be very unusual to find women pilots. The perception that women weren't as good flying or in technical type jobs, professions is not true anymore."

After graduating from Memorial High School in June, Davis' father paid for her flight school.

Davis couldn't really see herself taking any other career path after her first flight.

"I want to travel," she said. "I want to go see places."

Closer to the coast, sunlight breaks through a rising garage door, unveiling one of the planes Matthew Perrigue, 18, flew to receive his private license.

Perrigue had been going to the Calhoun Air Center in Port Lavaca since January to get to where he is now.

"When I was like, 8 or 10, I flew with my uncle," Perrigue said. "I was too young to take lessons though."

Perrigue, who graduated from Profit Magnet High School, wants to fly corporate planes, he said.

"Those big jets are too big for me," he said smirking.

Perrigue began his training in April 2009 through Victoria Flyers and moved to the Cessna training system at the air center.

He will be attending Texas State Technical College in Waco in the fall to receive his certified flight instructor's certificate through the aircraft pilot training program.

The Mission Valley resident is ready to take on the program, he said.

"Flying itself isn't hard at all," he said as he checked the gear on his plane. "It's like learning to drive a car."

Teaching Perrigue could not have turned out any better said his trainer, Eric Derickson, 29.

Derickson graduated from the school Perrigue plans to attend so he knew exactly how to cater the lesson plan, he said.

"He's going to be head and shoulders above the competition," he said.

Unlike Vandervlugt, Derickson sees younger people not looking to the sky as much as they used to.

"The trend is actually going down a little bit because the aviation industry is in a bit of a decline," he said. "Since the economy has been coming back up, it's looking good for the future. So we're going to see an uptake here before too long."

It usually takes a practicing pilot five to 10 years to establish a career in aviation, he said.

The fact that young people are enthusiastic about flying, makes them quick learners who have the time to devote those years to make a career, he added.

"They are pretty much the only viable option we have to fill all the pilot losses in the next decade or so," he said.

Crosswinds

Davis is now following in Perrigue's footsteps - literally.

Davis met Perrigue on a cross-country flight she had to do to receive her solo license.

She landed at the air center and learned he had just received his private license, something she is working toward getting in the next two weeks.

"It's cool to have someone to relate to," said Davis, who was driving to one of her flight lessons.

The two have each mapped out cross country tours they can fly together so they can learn from one another, she added.

Knowing Perrigue has a private license, Davis' competitive nature kicks in, she said.

"It makes me want to do it even more," she said laughing. "It's friendly competition."

Perrigue agrees.

"It's pretty nice," he said about meeting Davis. "You talk to your friends and they don't know what you are talking about a lot of the time. We share experiences, information and what we know."

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