BONNERS FERRY — “An airplane stands for freedom, for joy, for the power to understand, and to demonstrate that understanding,” wrote author Richard Bach in his book ‘Nothing by Chance’.
For those who are compelled to join the birds and clouds, dance with them high above ground, or are just fascinated with the construction of the amazing machines that have allowed us to break from earthly constraints, Experimental Aircraft Association, EAA Chapter 757 answers that call.
The EAA Chapter 757 is a local club that meets on the second Tuesday of each month at the Bonners Ferry Airport Terminal. They are a group of aviation enthusiasts, aircraft builders, and pilots who enjoy sharing ideas, exchanging information, encouraging safety, and serving the local aviation community.
“Our chapter is part of the worldwide network of Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) chapters,” EAA Chapter 757 writes on their website. “EAA embodies the spirit of aviation through the world’s most engaged community of aviation enthusiasts.”
For over 60 years, EAA has been a grassroots community of aviators and innovators who enjoy sharing their passion and experience with one another, with 170,000 plus members.
EAA Chapter 757 President Gene Andrews is hoping to gain more members to join their enthusiastic club.
“If you are interested in airplanes, you would probably get airplane rides on a regular basis if you wanted, and you could learn how to build an aircraft,” said Andrews. “You would meet a whole bunch of people that are excited about the industry and about aircrafts.”
They are currently working on bringing a piece of history alive, building a full size replica of a Sopwith Baby, a bi-plane that was introduced in 1915 by the Sopwith Aviation Company, known as the workhorse of the Royal Naval Air Service for much of the First World War.
“We wanted to do something. This is the Experimental Aircraft Association, so maybe we ought to build one,” Andrews said with a chuckle. “We are trying to get a little interest, and maybe some new members.”
Andrews is funding this project, since EAA cannot own an aircraft as a club. However, other members who want to build or restore an airplane can have help from other members as a fun, learning project for all.
The Sopwith project began in late June of 2017. The club is making good progress, with the bones coming into place. When asked when he thinks it will be completed, Andrews joked, “By at least 37 years from now.”
Andrews, who owns two other planes, is looking forward to flying the Sopwith, having never flown this one before. The club itself is enthusiastic as they work together on their first airplane project, with anywhere from two to nine members working on it during each session.
Another project that the EAA does, is provide free flights for youths between the ages of 8-17, through its Young Eagle program. The program is driven by volunteers, both on the ground and in the air.
“To do the Young Eagles, we need between five and seven pilots. They each do probably five or six flights with one to three kids in the plane with them,” Andrews explained. ”They do about a ten minute flight. They go down by the golf course and turn around and land, but they get a chance to see everything.”
Stricter training guidelines and background checks, have caused some pilots to shy away from volunteering, but the reward of introducing young minds to the wonders of the sky, some for the first time, keeps some coming back.
The club wants to encourage all ages. “If they are too small, then we have flight simulators for them to fly, so they get to do something,” said Andrews.
Once the fire is ignited in the youth of Boundary County, EAA Chapter 757 takes it a step further by offering scholarships for those youths who aspire to take to the air.
“What we try to do is give almost everybody who applies a scholarship for the ground school, so that pays for their tuition and the ground school, but not the books,” explained Andrews.
“This year we have five kids in the ground school,” said Andrews. “If they are really good performers in the ground school then they are eligible for another $3000 scholarship for flight training, which usually gets them through solo or real close to solo.”
The ground school is a 16 week program provided by Northern Air to help the students prepare for pilot training. The students vary from year to year.
“Last year we only got one, and the year before we had seven- and out of those seven- we gave all seven ground school,” said Andrews. “Only three of them finished the ground school, and each one of those got the $3000 scholarship to go on. One of them got their license in the middle of June.”
Becoming a member of EAA Chapter 757 offers a great learning experience for seasoned to aspiring pilots during its monthly meetings. The last meeting explored cold weather flying.
Tammy Blanford, one of their members, who got her license about 15 years ago and then was a flight trainer here for four or five years, before moving on to a flight university, and eventually became a captain for Alaska Airlines talked with the club.
“She gave us a really nice talk on what it takes to be a commercial airline pilot,” said Andrews.
With EAA standing for Experimental Aircraft, Andrews explained the benefits of “experimental.”
“Homebuilts have surpassed the commercial aircraft- unbelievably,” said Andrews. “They are so advanced compared to cessnas and pipers, because to make any changes to those, you have to go through a two or three million dollar test program and get FAA to monitor it and all that stuff, whereas with these experimentals you can make advances.”
The club also embraces homebuilt aircrafts, ultralights, vintage planes, aerobatics, and more. Andrews owns two planes of his own, one of which is a Kitfox, a German design and built in the Ukraine.
“I have Kitfox, which is a two piece tube and fabric plane and it is one with amphibious floats,” said Andrews. “It is a state of the art aircraft. It is carbon fiber, fiberglass, and high wing and it’s got a parachute for the whole airplane. If you really panic, you pull this big red handle and the parachute comes out and you float down.“
The EAA is open to many different loves, so long as it pertains to taking to the air on wings. With their efforts to help the youth of Boundary County achieve their dreams of soaring with the birds, and a low cost of membership, just $20 for an individual or family, for a year, they rely on the community to fund their endeavors.
The EAA puts on a Fly-in Huckleberry Pancake Breakfast on the last Saturday of the month, from May until September. People drive or fly in for the breakfast that lasts from 8 a.m. to 10:30 a.m., where they can enjoy huckleberry pancakes, scrambled eggs, sausage, orange juice, and coffee.
Thanks to the generosity of local businesses, including Northern Air, Inc., Three Mile Store & Cafe, Safeway, and Super 1 Foods, as well as the community who attends these breakfasts, the youth of Boundary County has a chance to fly towards their dreams.
For more information, visit the local EAA Chapter 757 website: www.757.eaachapter.org
Or contact Gene Andrews, EAA Chapter 757 President/Secretary at 208-610-8339