Local woman is helping kids get off the ground
Betty Pfister loves to fly, and it shows. This summer she took three local kids to Florida for an all-expenses-paid trip to a flight school.
Rebecca Anderson, Chris Luu and Kristin Wright were chosen from among eight applicants based on their applications and essays they wrote.
But even the students who were not chosen were rewarded for their efforts with a several-hour tour of the Aspen airport. They were taken to see the control tower and airplanes, and told how things work. They also got to meet a flight school instructor and air traffic controllers.
They toured a rescue unit and “we all got to sit in the front seat of a Cessna and just mess with the controls,” said Samantha Kidd, one applicant and a recent graduate of Aspen High School.
Luu received a scholarship for a week-long camp in Daytona Beach, which he attended in July. Anderson and Wright were sent to a three-week camp where students were able to fly a plane solo at the end of the training. Wright went to an early session of the camp in June, while Anderson attended the July session. Students met kids from high schools all over the country, as well as a few international students, and took courses in small groups.
The camps were held at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, a flight school well recognized in the flying arena. Pfister says the university is “the Stanford of aviation school.”
Pfister has been sending youths to experiential camps, such as this one and Space Camp, for several years. She sent two local students, Travis Smith and Sarabeth Berk, to Space Camp last year.
After attending an aviation meeting in Orlando this year and learning about the program at Embry Riddle, she chose this year to send students to Flying Camp instead. Pfister feels she “had an outstanding group of applicants this year. Everyone that [was chosen] went with a really serious attitude.”
Pfister is not sure if she will choose to send students again next year, or if she will send them to a different camp. She did say that if she sends kids in the future, “they will go only to the three-week camp,” because she feels one week is not enough time.
The students who attended the camp were broken up into groups of about 12, and paired with roommates who were also their flight partners. Each set of partners had a different instructor who took them flying in four-hour blocks each day.
Students flew with their instructor’s supervision for almost two hours a day, with their partners in the back seat of the plane. Anderson said being in the back seat was helpful because she could pick up on things to work on. “You get a lot of benefit because you can hear what the instructor is saying to your partner,” she said.
Students practiced maneuvers such as stalls, when “you basically start falling out of the sky,” said Wright. Students also went on longer flights to other places in Florida. They all flew in Cessna 172s, single-engine propeller planes. They relied most on Visual Flight Rules, or VFR, to navigate the planes.
During their days off, students took trips to the beach and amusement parks, and enjoyed other activities.
Unfortunately for Wright and Anderson, neither got to fly solo. Or as Wright puts it, she “sort of got to solo.” After taxiing to the end of the runway and looking for other traffic, she was forced to come back because of severe weather conditions.
Anderson, who attended the later camp, could not fly solo because all of the school’s Cessna 172s were grounded the last week of the camp. Within 24 hours, three engines had stalled, once during a solo flight by an inexperienced pilot. The planes were grounded until the school could figure out what was wrong with them.
When they found out they would not get to fly solo, the students were given the option to go home after the first two weeks. Anderson chose to stay. “I had never flown before. I was there, and I figured I’d get as much out of it as possible.” She still felt the program was a success, in spite of not being able to fly the last week. She admits that “it was hard not to solo, but it was definitely worth it.”
Pfister is also interested in setting up a local ground school course, possibly in conjunction with the Colorado Mountain College. There is currently no ground school offered in Aspen.
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The city of Aspen is contributing $1 million to a CDOT project that will see concrete instead of asphalt at the roundabout into town.