WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Oliver Sutton is only 15 years old, but he knows what he wants to do with his life, according to the Winston-Salem Journal.
On Friday, he got a little practice.
The Forsyth Middle College student was cool and confident stepping out of the cockpit of the Cessna 172 parked on the tarmac at Smith Reynolds Airport.
He wasn’t nervous in the air, he said. He’s flown an airplane before.
“It’s easy,” said Oliver, who dreams of being a pilot and joining the Air Force. “I like the feeling, looking out over stuff. It’s just freedom.”
Oliver was one of several dozen high school-age students participating in the Tom Davis ACE Academy, a weeklong aviation camp designed to introduce middle and high school students to flying. The middle school camp was held last week.
Students spend the first four days learning about the industry. They learn the mechanics behind different kinds of aircraft and the different fields that the industry offers. JoAnne Allen, one of the camp’s two directors, said the goal is to bring together kids from diverse backgrounds and expose them to opportunities in aviation.
“There are so many different fields,” Allen said. “There’s more to it than just being a pilot.”
While there are kids like Oliver — in his third year and enrolled in once-a-month flight training — there are also novices at taking the controls. Friday was the first time for Charlotte Clinton, 17, a student at Reagan High School.
“I thought it was going to be scary. It was fun,” Charlotte said.
“I took off, but he landed,” she said of the co-pilot who flies with each student.
The camp, in its fifth year, still attracts relatively small numbers — just a few dozen students each summer — but the directors said they see many of the kids returning year after year. Much of the cost of the camp is underwritten by grants, said co-director Tony Colburn, so students pay just $75 for the entire week. They’re fed breakfast and lunch, have four days of class and field trips that include rocket-building, time in a flight simulator and a helicopter ride before the flight day. At the airport, the students tour the control tower and watch Tony McKoy, an air-traffic controller for more than 30 years, coordinate the takeoffs and landings of their classmates. They rotate between the tour and the flights, where students fly alongside an experienced pilot and have the opportunity to take the controls.
Experienced students, like Zachary Serge, are able to do the majority of the piloting.
“I took off, flew and handled the turns in,” said Zachary, 15, a student at Glenn High School.
Zachary has attended the camp all five years. He handled the takeoff and much of the navigation during the 10-minute flight circling over Winston-Salem, relinquishing control to his professional co-pilot for the landing.
The camp is a unique glimpse into the world of aviation, which can mean the world to airplane enthusiasts like Zachary.
“Ever since I was a kid, I’ve loved plans and flying,” he said. “I think I was made for it.”