FRYEBURG, Maine — Last Saturday’s open house for the Eastern Slope Aviation Academy may have been dampened by rain, but young pilot-to-be David Bellis-Bennett of Hale’s Location was unaffected by the poor flying weather.
David, 16, and flight instructor Mark Woodruff of Ossipee were (in their minds, anyway) thousands of miles away from wet and chilly Fryeburg as they performed a landing drill over the island of Maui on the academy’s Redbird TD2 flight simulator.
“You handled it well,” Woodruff, 46, — a certified flight instructor and Navy vet — told the Fryeburg Academy student, who is the son of Christopher Bellis and Eddie Bennett, owners of the Cranmore Inn of North Conway.
He told the young flying enthusiast, who will be a junior this year, “What you always want to be thinking of as a pilot is what could go wrong. … but to enjoy the flying, too.”
David has had a passion for flying since he was 11. “I just love everything about aviation, the teamwork of how everyone from the ground crew to the traffic controllers and the pilots and flight crew all work together. When I go into an airport, that all excites me,” said Bellis-Bennett.
While he has not yet piloted an actual plane, he has been able to “take the yoke,” the control column on a fixed-wing aircraft in flight through the aviation academy.
Other kids also were eager to check out the simulator at Saturday’s open house, held 8 a.m.-1 p.m. at Eastern Slope Regional Airport in Fryeburg.
Twin sisters Clara and Ava Preston, 7, granddaughters of Jackie (Seavey) and former pilot Dino Scaletti of Maryland and Redstone were next.
“It’s great to see the girls try their hand at it. They love going to the airfield and looking at planes. I still miss flying,” said Dino, who said he used to pass over his mother’s house in Redstone when flying to the old White Mountain Airport in North Conway, now site of Settlers Green (see accompanying story).
Although the weather did not cooperate for the promised airplane rides, academy president Ed Bergeron and others on hand in Fryeburg on Saturday expressed their enthusiasm for the program officially getting off the ground.
“I think it was a good day,” said Bergeron, a lifelong pilot and retired engineer.
Although a fly-in did not happen due to the weather, a barbecue, drone flying, flight simulator demonstrations and raffling off of prizes took place throughout the day. Bergeron said that the academy also recruited a few new members.
Bergeron said the academy charges $25 per month plus an annual fee of $100, or a onetime payment of $300 for both. “We have scholarships for the academy,” he said.
Among those on hand at Saturday’s event was Glen Mori, a 1982 Kennett High graduate who now lives in Windsock Village in West Ossipee. He’d hoped to fly a Cessna 140 that he bought in 1981 from Wylie Apte, owner of the former White Mountain Airport, to the grand opening, but the weather grounded those hopes.
Mori — son of the late Earl and Gibson Center for Senior Services founder Glenna Mori — had nothing but praise for the new academy.
Standing next to a Grumman aircraft donated by fellow Kennett grad Chip Henry to the academy for a restoration project, Mori said there are many career opportunities opening up in the aviation industry for young flying enthusiasts like David.
“I started flying here in Fryeburg in 1983 the year after I graduated from Kennett,” said Mori, who works as a nurse in Laconia and is currently helping his stepson Dawson Wagstaff to learn to fly. “He soloed in my little two-seater in April.”
He said he and Dawson also bought a Grumman aircraft which “we are working on as a father-and-son project,” said Mori. “Grumman made a lot of military planes and then they got into the small plane market in the ’70s,” he added.
The academy, whose board includes not only Bergeron but Eric Meltzer, Jon Saxby, Rick Hiland, Frank Lunn and Virginia Schrader and Joe Riddensdale, director and instructor, respectively, of the MWV Career and Technical Center at Kennett High, has bylaws and is registered with the state as a charitable non-profit.
It has raised over $80,000 in grants and gifts and has developed a three-year budget to assure the financial success of the program, according to Bergeron. He said students started training on the academy’s Redbird Simulator this past winter.
The aviation academy plans eventually to purchase a good used plane, a Cessna 172.
“Jon Saxby, who is an airline pilot for American Airlines, was in Florida and saw a Cessna 172 that had 1,500 hours on the motor (when you go get to 2,000 hours, you generally replace the motor) and it was owned by a sheriff’s department. He bid $61,000 for it, and it went for $81,000,” Bergeron said.
Saxby said he is happy to help young people in the area explore careers in the aviation industry. Of the new academy, he said, “It’s a great program.”
At Saturday’s open house, the orange Grumman aircraft donated by Henry displayed price tags on different parts of the plane, which underscore that the academy appreciates any and all donations.
Among the estimated prices? Refurbished propeller, $2,000; new tires, $300; brake system, $1,500; rebuilt engine, $20,000; paint the wing, $1,000; flap refurnish, $1,000; and vertical stablizers, $500.
“This two-seat Grumman trainer will undergo a complete refurbishment to airworthiness standards by our STEM aviation students,” the academy’s directors shared on Instagram recently
“We’re seeking tax-deductible donations of money and/or materials to help get this project off the ground. Sponsors will have their name or company logo prominently displayed on the finished product.”
Bergeron said the mission of the academy is to introduce young people to careers in aviation. “We have many resources, from aircraft mechanics to air-traffic controllers.”
In an interview last week with the Sun, Bergeron said the academy isn’t just for high school students.
“Because of COVID, our service group has been really Kennett kids and Fryeburg Academy kids. We haven’t had anybody from the public join the Academy, but now we’re going to be opening up July 3 to the public.”
On Saturday, he said six people signed up — three adults and three students
“Overall, we now have 28 Kennett High students and 14 Fryeburg Academy students in the aviation academy,” said Bergeron.
Speaking of Kennett, the STEM aviation program there goes back four years at the school’s MWV Career and Technical Center. Schrader, the center’s director, and Riddensdale, CADD (computer-aided design and drafting) instructor, were present at aviation day last Saturday, and Schrader described how she had worked with Bergeron and SAU 9 Superintendent Kevin Richard and Conway School Board chair Joe Lentini to develop the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) Aviation and Aerospace curriculum.
“Ed (Bergeron) wrote to Kevin Richard and Joe Lentini that he and his aviation friends felt strongly that Kennett would do well to have an aviation program and that they wanted to help start one,” said Schrader.
“Ed’s vision was to create an academy similar to a flying club that would serve a central role not just for KHS kids but for Fryeburg Academy as well, along with community members from their 20s to 40s,” said Schrader.
Schrader is not a pilot, which set her apart from the other directors, all of whom are members of the Aircraft Owners Pilots Association (AOPA) but she has a passion for introducing students to promising career paths.
A four-year curriculum for grades 9 through 12, developed by the industry in collaboration with AOPA is called STEM Aviation and Aerospace.
“They beta tested it in the ninth grade at a school in Texas and then added 10th grade, and then we started talking,” Schrader said.
“I brought in Joe (Riddensdale) as he had expressed interest in the program. We decided to start it as a summer program to see the response. … We had a certified flight instructor who taught quite a few students (grades 7-9) and adults. We did our first STEM aviation and aerospace camp at the Eastern Slope Airport in 2018, consistent with the AOPA standards,” she said.
In summer 2019, they repeated the camp twice and both times, they sold out “very quickly,” Schrader noted.
Because of the Kennett program’s success, Schrader was sent to an AOPA symposium hosted by United Airlines’ Flight School in Denver, where high school administrators came together to be introduced to the STEM aviation and aerospace program.
At Bergeron’s urging, Schrader applied to AOPA to teach the program at the MWV Career and Technical Center and it was taught in 2020, with 27 ninth-grade students taking the first year of the course taught by Riddensdale.
As for last Saturday’s open house, Schrader said, “We had wanted to do it for awhile but COVID put those plans on hold. But, in the meantime, all of these things have come together. It has been a labor of love these past three or four years, but now we are seeing the results.”
She said if a KHS or Fryeburg Academy student signs up for the STEM Aviation and Aerospace course they automatically become members of the Eastern Slope Aviation Academy. “We pay their membership through a grant for Kennett students,” she said.
The next Mount Washington Valley School to Career FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) and ACE (Aviation Committee for Education) Summer Aviation Camp starts July 12, with the aviation academy providing guest speakers, instructors and resources at the Eastern Slope Regional Airport.
The schedule includes a visit to Pease New Hampshire National Guard Base in Newington to check out the control tower Tuesday. They will also get to go for a glider ride in Franconia and to work on their simulator skills and pilot skills at the airport.
School to Career is a 501(3)(c) non-profit founded to provide educational opportunities for Kennett Middle School students to give them experiences in potential career paths, such as aviation, and to help them choose areas of study once they reach Kennett High through the MWV Career and Technical Center. Certified flight instructors for the camp include Saxby and Eric Hill, formerly of Florida.
“The aviation camp is sponsored by the aviation academy,” explained Bergeron. “It’s an introduction to aviation for kids; some of them belong to the aviation academy, and some don’t.
“We first did the camp three years ago, offering it to seventh- and eighth-graders, but we found the seventh-graders did not have the attention span that we’d like to. The second year we held it for eighth- and ninth-graders and that’s who we are offering it to this year,” he said.
Bergeron said that the roots for the academy were born at the Eastern Slope Airport Authority’s annual meeting on January 2019 when David Sorensen of Eaton made a motion to create a non-profit organization to introduce young people to a career in aviation.
“I think it’s a great program,” said David Cullinan, a Kennett High graduate who serves as manager of the Eastern Slope Airport.
“I was taken aloft for my first ride by my dad when I was 7 or 8 in one of the biplanes at the old White Mountain Airport in North Conway and it hooked me,” said Cullinan.
Reporter Lloyd Jones contributed to this article.