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Planes, brains and navigational skills

WOULD-BE PILOTS Dana Elliot and Cerah Leija (rear) take a mock test flight in a Cessna 180 at the Pine Mountain Lake Airport. (Amy Alonzo/Copyright 2003, The Union Democrat).
WOULD-BE PILOTS Dana Elliot and Cerah Leija (rear) take a mock test flight in a Cessna 180 at the Pine Mountain Lake Airport. (Amy Alonzo/Copyright 2003, The Union Democrat).

By CLAIRE ST. JOHN

Amid the roar of single-engine aircraft and the odor of plane fuel in the air, Tenaya School fifth, sixth and seventh graders learned about aviation hands on.

The hangars at Pine Mountain Lake Airport were thrown open for the visitors, and plane owners and enthusiasts led students through aviation-oriented activities.

Rand Siegfried, a Pine Mountain Lake resident, said hopes to start a Wild Blue Wonder program on campus, in which students would learn to navigate, plot courses and fly in simulations.

"There is, of course, the obvious math, science and navigation, but aviation is the unifying theme," Siegfried said.

After studying aviation for months at school, Tenaya students would compete in a regional Wild Blue Wonder competition, similar to the academic decathlon, Principal Don Moore said.

But first the team needs members.

"We're here to pique their interest about aviation," Moore said.

A box of balsa-wood gliders was waiting for students at Larry Struck's hangar, where he spends his time repairing planes.

As students assembled the small gliders and tried to get them to crash in midair, Struck explained airplane mechanics, demonstrating on his Cessna 180 and a disemplaned engine. He also told students that if they wanted to fly, there are ways around the high cost of buying and maintaining a plane.

"There's places you can go and learn to fly," he said. "And if you're really interested in aviation, there's ways to fly."

After the lesson, pairs of students clambered into the cockpit, pretending to bank the plane and steer it under a bridge.

Other stations taught students about navigation, machining airplane parts and the history of flight.

Students ate their lunch in front of Kent and Sandy Blankenbury's two hangars, both packed with antique aircraft and memorabilia.

While Sandy ran back and forth keeping the lemonade flowing, Kent answered students' questions about the antique planes. The Lockheed Electra 12A, for instance, has 3,300,000 miles on it, and Kent and Sandy expect to put twice that number on it.


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