AirFest: Teens behind the scenes learn something up in the sky

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Sunday, September 11, 2011
— Rolling, twisting, stalling and spewing smoke, the aircraft at Southern Wisconsin AirFest put the “wild” in the wild blue yonder Saturday.

Propeller planes scream-growled “eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

eeeeooooooohhhhhhhhhhhhhh” as they buzzed the runway in front of hundreds of wide-eyed kids of all ages.

Even a staid Midwestern kid had to say, “Whoa.”

Just as impressive but less flashy was a group of teen-agers who remained anonymous to most show-goers. They are the cadets and former cadets of the Wisconsin Aviation Academy, which is the main beneficiary of AirFest’s annual charitable giving.

The academy gives teens a goal, along with rules that include staying out of trouble and keeping their grades up. Families—many underprivileged—pay what they can, and the rest is provided by donations. And the teens volunteer at the annual air show.

Pilot training can cost $7,000 or more, said AirFest president and academy board member George Messina.

Tyler Foster, 17, of Roscoe, Ill., recently graduated from the academy and got his license. He was selling programs at the show.

“That’s what we’re here for, to pay back a little of what they’ve done for us,” Foster said.

Foster said the training helped.

“When you can fly an airplane by yourself—take up something that big—it’s independence and confidence,” he said.

“Even if I don’t continue flying, it’s good for the resume,” he added.

The academy, which like AirFest is celebrating its 10th anniversary, saw nine of its students get their pilot licenses in recent months, Messina said.

Various graduates are commercial or military pilots or headed in that direction, Messina said proudly.

“It was real cool, but it was kind of scary,” said Travis Foster, Tyler’s twin, about his first time at the controls of the Cessna single-engine plane.

Travis now has his license and is at home in the pilot’s seat.

“It teaches you to take command of an aircraft,” Travis said.

Lauren Mahun of Edgerton, whose solo flight was featured in the Gazette last May, said she was inspired to join the program after meeting stunt pilot Susan Dacy, one of the performers at the show.

Today, she has seen a lot of air shows, but the thrill still shines in her eyes.

Mahun has her license and hopes to climb the pilot ratings ladder when she attends the University of Dubuque next year.

She’ll get a commercial license, she said, but her heart is in doing what Dacy does, not sitting in the cockpit of a computer-guided passenger plane.

Mahun prefers the old-style planes to the jets. “I like the F18s,” she said, referring to the Navy fighter that performed at the show, “but it’s just not the same to me.”

Show flying can be dangerous, but “I’d rather do something I enjoy doing and there’s a risk than do something I don’t love doing,” Mahun said.


AirFest continues today at the Southern Wisconsin Regional Airport off Highway 51 south of Janesville.

Gates open at 9 a.m. Opening ceremonies are at 11:30 a.m. and include a parade to mark the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. The show includes 11 separate acts. Adult tickets purchased at the gate cost $25 per adult and $10 for children ages 6-12. Children under 6 enter free. Parking free with ticket purchase.

Last updated: 6:22 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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