FORT WAYNE – Christian Burlage would like to think he picked a fast one to fly, but in truth, it was the luck of the draw; the right place at the right time sort of thing.
The 14-year-old from Columbia City Troop 84 was just one of 198 Boy Scouts, their families and troop leaders who converged on Smith Field Airport on Saturday for the fourth annual aviation merit badge event, which allows scouts to earn their aviation merit badge in a single day.
In pursuit of earning their Eagle Scout status, the nearly 200 Boy Scouts from Indiana, Michigan and Ohio learned about careers in aviation, how runways operated, how to check an aircraft pre-flight and how to build a model plane. All important pieces of information. But the good stuff waited outside, beneath the bluest, open sky they would ever see up close.
Thirteen planes and 13 pilots, volunteers from the Experimental Aircraft Association Chapter Two, gave each scout a ride in either their two- or four-seat aircrafts Saturday.
Burlage, a new freshman at Columbia City, would be the lone passenger in the bright yellow RV6A, built and flown by Mark Beck.
For the five-hour event, Smith Field was a mini version of Chicago’s busy O’Hare International, with single-prop planes of varying sizes landing what seemed every two minutes to pick up another round of scouts.
It’s important just to have them come out here and learn about it, and hopefully, whenever they get older, they’ll go into a flight training program and then start filling in the aviation careers, said Tamara George, Smith Field lead operations controller. A lot of the pilots out there now, working for the airlines and even working for the airports, are older, and their generation is about ready to go into retirement and move on. We need the younger generation to come up and fill those spots.
With the roar of another plane’s engine close by, Beck, a 61-year-old science teacher at Shawnee Middle School, gave Burlage some pre-flight instructions.
This little yellow plane will be a little different, Beck said. It’s very quick on the control. It’s an aerobatic plane. We will not be doing any aerobatics today. We’ll pretty much be flying straight and level. Once we’re up flying, I will let you know when you can put your hand on the control stick. When I have you do that, I’m going to have you make a very gentle left and right turn so you can see how sensitive the controls are. If you go like that (he gestures hard to the left with his hand), we’re going to be doing barrel rolls. We don’t want to do that.
This plane will cruise about 180 miles an hour. Most of these planes out here are quite a bit slower than that, maybe somewhere around 120 miles an hour, or some of the little tail-draggers may be more like 80 miles an hour. So there are a lot of differences in planes.
With Beck on the left side of the cockpit and young Burlage to his right, the pair was airborne at 9:46 a.m. and had wheels down at 9:58 a.m. after touring the skies over Huntertown and Churubusco.
It was great, said Burlage, who had flown before but admitted to a nervous stomach before he was strapped in.
All our boys are working hard toward their Eagle project and a lot of them are very close, said Troop 84 leader Kristine Straub, who was with her sons Evan and Cole. This will help them reach another accomplishment toward that goal of 21 merit badges. They’re excited about that, but they’re also excited to come and learn about planes. A couple of them have flown before, but most of them have not flown before.