Some Aspen High students getting cleared for takeoff |

Some Aspen High students getting cleared for takeoff

Jeanne McGovern
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN – At a time when most teenagers look forward to getting their driver’s licenses, a handful of Aspen High School students have set their sights a bit higher – literally.

“I’ve always been fascinated by flying, always wanted to be a pilot. There’s just something about it I cannot explain,” said Aspen High junior Nick Belinski, who hopes to attend the Air Force Academy and someday become a pilot. “So when a few of us with the same interests started talking, we decided to make something happen.”

Thus, the Aspen High School Flying Club took off after Christmas break with the goal of finishing a six- to eight-week ground school course and, ultimately, to take and pass the written portion of the FAA test to become a private pilot.

“It’s a beginner’s course, and a great way to learn about all aspects of flying – FAA regulations, mechanics, rules of the road,” said Belinski. He is well on his way to becoming a pilot, having soloed this summer, and is in the process of logging his final hours of flight time to earn his pilot’s license. “And it’s a lot of fun to do it with your classmates.”

According to Belinski, AHS is one of only two high schools he could find with such a club. The other is in Rochester, Mo.

“I’m so proud of the kids and how they have orchestrated this entire club. Amazing kids … and Nick Belinski is the power behind what has transpired,” said AHS intervention specialist and club sponsor Phyllis Cron, who is learning right along with her charges. “My father was in the Air Force, and I have always dreamt of becoming a pilot.

“Looks like this dream may become reality after all.”

Led by flight instructors C.J. Eliassen, of Vita Volo Aviation, and Gary Kraft, of Aspen Aero, the class at Aspen High is designed to provide a groundwork for the students to go forward in their aviation endeavors. It utilizes textbooks and video to achieve this goal, and with some additional hours once the course is complete, students should be ready to take their written exam.

“This is all the knowledge that you need before you get your license,” said Kraft, adding that this is his first experience teaching such a course to a group of high-schoolers. “It’s not required to take a course like this, you could follow the FAA handbook on your own. But this makes learning more dynamic.”

In fact, a person can begin flying with an instructor at really any age and without any formal schooling. They can fly solo at age 16 and take the tests to receive their private pilot’s license at 17 – the same age most kids start to drive a car.

“These kids are really impressive,” said Kraft. “They’re already in school, in a learning environment, so you tell them what to do and they do it and retain it.

“With adults, it’s a little different. And kids don’t come in with so many bad habits … a big ego can be a difficult thing to deal with, and these kids generally don’t have that yet.”

Belinski agreed: “We will probably have more education about aviation than most people trying to get their pilot’s licenses, so it’s not that outlandish to me to think of a teenager flying a plane.”

Of course not every kid in the AHS Flying Club will go on to get his or her pilot’s license, let alone become a pilot. But everyone involved agreed there are benefits in being part of the club.

“We have a lot of local pilots, but not a lot of local student pilots,” said Belinski, acknowledging the financial burden of becoming a pilot puts off some kids. “But with this course, we can teach the basics for cheap. It can help students see the fun in flying and then they can decide where to take it.”

Kraft added: “These kids are incredibly lucky. And in many ways this is quite an opportunity, as there will be a shortage of pilots in the near future.”

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