As the first PA 11 engine rumbled to life Monday morning on the SUN ‘n FUN Expo Campus, a handful of parents stood by and watched as their six children were getting ready to depart for the 15-hour journey to EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, WI. The Lakeland Aero Club is home to the largest young aviators club in the nation. Their state of the art hangar gives the students plenty of room to restore aircraft, something they’ve excelled at within the past few years.
Michael Jenkins, PJ Ohiek, Trevor Penix, Donovan Richards, Tyson Trentham, and Joey Verdone began their voyage with the Lakeland Aero Club’s leader, Mike Zidzunias. The club departed around 7:30 a.m. on Monday in three airplanes, one of which the club fully restored. Of the six students, four of them have flown with the club to Oshkosh before.
None of the young pilots are out of their teens, and most received their Private Pilot’s License within the last year with the help of SUN ‘n FUN’s James C. Ray Scholarship program. Joey Verdone, the youngest pilot going on the trip, just received his scholarship, and is logging some of his first flying hours on this trip. This trip is about the experience the young pilots will receive with Mike as their guide. The club planned their trip, factoring in short flight times and frequent fuel stops, staying together, and ending their days before summer weather rolls in.
The young pilots took off in Lakeland and ended their first day in Alabama. The aviators relaxed during their first night by fishing after a long day of flying. By day three, they were in Tennessee for a two day break. While in the Volunteer State, the young men will partake in various activities from local tours, to four- wheeling. The group plans to make it to Oshkosh by Saturday to enjoy their week at EAA AirVenture.
Lakeland Aeroclub, you are cleared for takeoff!