STISD students take flight at aviation camp

Joaquin Garcia helps steer a small plane Friday flying over the Mid-Valley. Photo by Daniel Flores | dflores@themonitor.com

HARLINGEN — Pilot Terry Barbee guided 16-year-old Joaquin Garcia around the white, 3,600-pound Bonanza A36 as he inspected the aircraft here at Sun Valley Aviation on Friday morning.

After waiting for the clouds to scatter, which enabled clear sightlines for ideal flying conditions, they lifted off.

Under the guidance of Barbee — a Weslaco native and experienced pilot who has flown since childhood — Garcia helped navigate the Rio Grande Valley, crossing Expressway 83 and flying by the Progreso-Nuevo Progreso International Bridge.

“You did a good job of flying, sir,” Barbee told Garcia as the plane landed on the runway.

Garcia was one of 15 students from the South Texas Independent School District to participate in the fifth annual Summer Aviation Camp last Friday. STISD’s camp is made possible by a partnership with Sun Valley Aviation.

Classes, speakers and flights took place from Monday through Friday last week, with the goal of educating students in not only aviation, but decision-making and other “human element” skills. Volunteers spent Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday guiding students — some of whom are prospective pilots — in hands-on experiences.

The camp was much more technical in previous years, camp coordinator Jim Konecny said.

This year proved more flexible in that students had the opportunity to gain practical experience in the air.

The program also offered students lectures on a variety of topics, including women in aviation, radio communication, stress and decision-making, leadership, meteorology, safety and navigation.

“We really kind of moved it toward being a life’s lesson, how to make good decisions… and to recognize problems,” Konecny said. “Being able to analyze what’s happening that you can prevent accidents, that you can prevent situations that are negative in some shape or form.”

Students can apply some of the concepts learned at the camp to other jobs besides piloting, Konecny said.

“As educators, (you) give them as many experiences as you can so they can make the very best judgment on what they want to do in life,” he said.

Each student got three flights with different airplanes and pilots, Konecny said.

Earlier in the week Garcia and other students were trained in aerodynamics, weight and balance, and aircraft performance.

“Ever since I was little, I just loved seeing things fly … flying is something I just have a passion for,” Garcia said. “It’s a little hard to get used to, because it’s not like driving a car. You have different forces acting on your body, so you feel those actions.”

“But once you get used to it, it’s amazing because you’re up in the air and not anyone can do that,” he said.

Garcia drew inspiration from pilot Paul Chapman after he presented during one of the week’s events. Chapman previously served in the armed forces.

Garcia plans to get a pilot’s license at Sun Valley Aviation and the weeklong event is “almost like a preparation for my future,” he said.

Garcia also wants to obtain a bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering at Texas A&M University in College Station, and to eventually serve in the U.S. Navy.

It takes about 60 to 100 hours of flight time to obtain a private license, Barbee said.

Sun Valley Aviation paid for expenses necessary for the camp, such as fuel for the planes. The pilots volunteered their time and expertise as they flew with their own aircraft.

Barbee said he started flying since childhood, being around airplanes with a father who served in the Pacific Theater during World War II.

He applauded Garcia’s ability and demeanor in the flight.

Garcia controlled the aileron, which is located on the wings and helps control balance and direction.

“He had a very smooth input on the controls,” Barbee said of Garcia’s handling of the plane. “A lot of people when they first start flying they get real nervous, they feel afraid, which is natural. But he was very relaxed.”

Other students sometimes have a “death grip” on the controls, the 66-year-old said.

Barbee said Garcia being relaxed enabled him to “let the plane talk to you, so to speak,” as he flew.

“If he decides he wants to pursue flying further, he’ll make a good pilot. He’s got the personality for it,” Barbee added.