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Homebuilt plane takes off in Sarasota with high ambition

Experienced pilots help teens take flight in aviation.

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  • | 10:30 a.m. July 26, 2017
  • East County
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During his July 24 flight, University Place resident Ric Romanoff needed a break, so he handed the controls over to his co-pilot.

It was time for 16-year-old Malcolm Moniz to fly.

The pair had taken off in their homebuilt Vans RV 12 aircraft earlier that morning from Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport and were early in their nine-hour flight to Oshkosh, Wis., the site of the internationally known AirVenture event, which runs July 24-30.

Romanoff, a 69-year-old, lifelong flight enthusiast, is a member of the Experimental Aircraft Association, an organization that encourages flying, building and restoring recreational aircraft. Its local Chapter  180 operates out of the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport.

Sarasota’s Moniz, a student at Pine View School, is a member of the EAA’s Young Eagles program, which encourages children to become involved in aviation. With his participation in Young Eagles and its offshoot, the Teen Aircraft Factory of Sarasota, Moniz was selected to participate in the Advanced Air Academy camp, which overlaps with the AirVenture event.

While Romanoff had planned to let Moniz handle the flying out of Sarasota, poor weather dictated the experienced pilot take  the controls. Now, though, it was time.

“They have to learn sometime,” Romanoff said by phone during a pit stop in Albany, Ga. “Here was an opportunity for that.”

While Romanoff was comfortable allowing Moniz to take over, he continued to monitor the controls.

“I’m not napping.”

EAA members keep a close watch as children participate in the Young Eagles and Teen Aircraft Factory programs, but the idea is to allow the children to spread their wings.

“It’s important because many youngsters need to find some direction,” Romanoff said. “They are our future. I’m not sure that as a society we do such a great job preparing them right now. I have to help in any way I can.”

Romanoff has confidence in those who participate in the Teen Aircraft Factory program. After all, they built the aircraft they took to AirVenture.

Early in their trip, Moniz was enjoying the experience.

‘It’s like you’re doing your own air show all the way up there,” he said. “Nothing fancy, though, except a tight turn to evade a cloud every now and then.”

The show really begins when they arrive.

“It’s the largest air show in the world,” Romanoff said, noting more than 10,000 aircraft will be on display. “It’s a place for builders to show off their work.”

They will be showing off their Van’s RV 12, which was built by a group of nine kids who completed the aircraft about a year ago. Moniz didn’t help build this particular plane, but he and five other kids have spent every Saturday morning since January building a new plane.

“It’s a grown-up Lego set,” Moniz said of building a plane. “They give you pictures and instructions and you have to decipher it.”

The Teen Aircraft Factory members started with the Young Eagles, a program in which EAA pilots take children to the skies for their first flight in an experimental aircraft.

Romanoff said EAA members felt they were successful stirring youngsters’ interest in aviation with the Young Eagles, but they weren’t giving them an outlet to pursue. The Teen Aircraft Factory was founded just more than three years ago.

Adult mentors, like Romanoff, work with the children to oversee each step of the assembly. Groups check each other’s work, as well, to ensure blueprints are followed correctly, Romanoff said.

River Club’s Taylor Fairchild, 12, said he always has been fascinated by flight. He said riding in a commercial airplane when he was younger was “the best thing ever.”

“It’s really cool we get the chance to build an airplane,” he said, adding he loves helping his dad, Shane, with home renovation projects. He loves learning new skills, and building airplanes has been a perfect hobby.

“It’s lots of tools I’ve never used before,” he said.

His mom, Janna Fairchild, said there is nothing her son would rather do on a weekend.

“He loves it so much,” Janna Fairchild said. “It’s something that really energizes him, motivates him.”

Janna Fairchild said she doesn’t worry about her son flying in a homebuilt aircraft constructed by kids.

“It’s a level of comfort I have with the pilots who work with the program,” she said. “Their resumes are impeccable. There’s is a level of trust there. You want your child to have an opportunity like this.”


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