For the second time this week, about 15 high school students from all over the country, and West Africa, lifted off the ground at the executive terminal outside the Salt Lake City International Airport.
The students came to Utah to learn to fly the friendly skies as part of Westminster College's summer aviation camp this week.
"It's the greatest feeling being up there; it's like a natural high," said 17-year-old Ryan Pierce, who hails from Cleveland. "You get to leave everything on the ground and just see the world for what it is."
Students spend the entire week learning about various aviation careers and professional etiquette associated with aviation management and operations. In addition to two flights, where they actually man the controls, participants tour local facilities and get to know people in the business as well as have a little fun, said Westminster College's aviation resource manager Gail Kolfstad.
"They leave with increased confidence, not only in aviation but in themselves, but also an idea of the college experience and thinking of career options," she said. Students also earn two college credits for completing the camp.
Most enrollees for the $839 aviation camp are already interested in taking flight, perhaps even in becoming a commercial pilot. But some just need the extra nudge to take them over the edge.
The camp, Kolfstad said, often turns into a good recruiting tool for Westminster College, allowing it to showcase not only the school, but great things about the state as well.
"We're one of the only schools that trains at an international airport and in Class B airspace," Kolfstad said. "They're flying right along with the big planes and communicating with air traffic control. After that experience, our students aren't intimidated to fly anywhere."
For Jeric Joseph, who has already spent at least 12 professional hours in a plane, learning to fly while communicating with ground control was challenging, but exciting.
"The radios are pretty hard to get, remembering all you have to say and all ways to say it," he said. "You have to listen closely to what they're saying to you and remember what you need to say to them." Getting back on the ground without having to phone in for doing something wrong, he said, means "as a pilot, you did something right."
Joseph, 15, is interested in becoming a pilot for the Air Force when he graduates high school, and in the meantime, he takes personal flying lessons at Airport 2 in West Jordan.
"It's so exciting to fly. You smile the whole time you're up there," said Ariel Lund, of West Jordan. "And the view is just gorgeous." She appreciates the technical parts of learning to fly as well, and she recognizes that the important instrument panel is what separates a pilot from an accident.
Instructors walked the students through preflight inspections of the four-seater Archer III planes, including battery, fuel and tire-pressure checks, as well as an overall inspection of the aircraft.
Westminster owns a total of 13 planes, purchased with a donation provided to the school eight years ago, allowing it to become a viable competitor in the national arena. Such resources, in addition to state-of-the-art flight simulators, take Westminster's camp to great heights.
"Our camps are purposefully designed to be a bit challenging," Kolfstad said. "Kids leave with an awareness that they can try new things and succeed."
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