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Aviation Day hopes to spark young people's interest in flying

John Lambing, left, and Pat Curry, both airplane enthusiasts, are two of the organizers behind Sunday's airshow at the Willmar Airport. The event is designed to get young people excited about and involved in flying. Free rides will be available to those ages 8 to 17 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. (Tribune photo by Ron Adams)

Local pilots hope a family event on Sunday at the Willmar Municipal Airport will create in young people the same interest in flying that John Lambing of Willmar felt when he was a kid.

"I'm a retired electrical engineer,'' said Lambing. "But I remember as a child looking up at airplanes flying overhead and saying, 'I've got to get in that.'''

Young people ages 8 to 17 who like airplanes will have an opportunity for free plane rides during Willmar Regional Aviation Day at the airport, located two miles west of town on state Highway 40.

This will be the first aviation day to be held at the new airport since it opened on Sept. 5, 2006. The event is being hosted by Willmar Chapter 1172 of the Experimental Aircraft Association, an international aviation association founded in 1953 and headquartered in Oshkosh, Wis., site of a large annual air show.

Pat Curry, chairman of the Willmar Municipal Airport Commission and EAA member, said people who attend the event don't need to be pilots to enjoy the activities. The Willmar chapter is hosting the event as a way to bring a family activity to the community and to showcase aviation, he said.

In addition, chapter members hope to raise funds for the Young Eagles scholarship program. Scholarships will be used to help pay the cost of flying lessons for young people.

Young Eagles was launched by the national EAA in 1992 to give interested young people an opportunity to fly in a general aviation airplane. During the past 18 years, more than 1.5 million Young Eagles nationwide have enjoyed a flight through the program, according to the EAA website.

EAA members enjoy all types of airplanes, including "experimental'' aircraft: those aircraft built by individuals rather than a factory. Home-built would be the better description, said Lambing. He said home-built planes have been around for 50 years or more.

The EAA website states the term experimental refers to a category of aircraft designated by the Federal Aviation Administration, including warplanes and antiques. Similar to standard category aircraft, experimental aircraft are inspected and certified airworthy by the FAA.

Fifty-one aircraft are based at the Willmar Airport. The Willmar EAA has 45 members, including four who have experimental aircraft. Lambing said EAA members are builders, tinkerers and doers in a workshop. Lambing became interested in model airplanes at an early age and he's been a pilot for almost 40 years.

One of the experimental planes to be on display will be Lambing's Sonex, a two-seater he built from a kit. After retiring as an electronic technician instructor at Ridgewater College, Lambing took a two-day course on how to build a kit plane. The assembly process took more than six years.

"Some people can do it in one year, but I was new at it,'' he said.

Lambing completed the Sonex about a year and a half ago and he's been flying it ever since.

The FAA considers the Sonex a light sport aircraft, which means it can only carry two people, said Lambing. The plane must land at a slow speed and have a limited amount of fuel. The Sonex is made of thin sheet aluminum and some angle aluminum and weighs about 670 pounds. It has a plastic see-through canopy, a wood propeller, an 80-hp engine, and has a top speed of 120 mph.

The kit arrived by truck on a pallet and measured about 12 feet by about 4 feet by about 4 feet.

"It was all there,'' said Lambing.

Some parts came with holes already drilled with a laser. For other pieces, Lambing took a blank sheet of aluminum and measured and cut. The parts are held together with stainless steel pop rivets.

The Sonex is a nice airplane, gentle and understanding, but it's also a little sporty because it is small, said Lambing. It's a little twitchy but forgiving, which means you can bring the nose up to a ridiculous attitude and its stall is harmless. If you land hard, the landing gear tends to absorb the bumps.

But you need a pilot license to fly the Sonex, just like any other airplane, said Lambing.

"It's for licensed pilots,'' he said. "You can get a sport pilot license to fly this, which is a little simpler and cheaper than a private pilot license.''

Curry said the Willmar EAA is dedicating Sunday's event to Gene Underland, 64, of Willmar who died when his home-built craft crashed on April 23, 2007, near Knox City, Mo. The crash also killed one passenger and injured another.

Curry said Underland was the sparkplug of the Willmar group, which was organized more than 20 years ago.

"We all miss him,'' said Curry.

Lambing said Underland's hangar was the place where people gathered to talk about airplanes.

"And if you have a problem, he'll help you.'' Lambing said.

David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150