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April 22, 2011 > Learn to fly for free

Learn to fly for free

By Simon Wong

Non-profit East Bay Aviators, Inc. trades as Motivation and Learning Through Aviation (MALTA) and is well-known for its 332nd Fighter Group Historical Replica Project (332nd FGHRP), which maintains the traditions and the legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen who viewed education as the key to opportunity and were the first generation of African-American military aviators to serve the United States with honor during World War II. Less well-known, however, is MALTA's free training program, based in Hayward, for youth to earn their private pilot's license.

One reason is funding. Sponsorship and donations are desperately needed. Instead of 10 students per course, only one student can enroll, with office and hangar fees and other expenses at Hayward Executive Airport covered personally by East Bay Aviators, Inc. Executive Director Ben L. Henderson and the occasional donation. Only one volunteer instructor is available. The three-year old program is in danger of dying without help. It costs approximately $8,500 to qualify for a private pilot's license; this includes Ground School, Flight Training with an instructor and the required solo hours before taking a flight test.

The MALTA program is an opportunity for low-income, minority, at-risk and disadvantaged youth, age 12-17 years, to understand they have career choices and potential. The six-week course consists of theory and practice with hands-on training, time in a flight simulator and classroom teaching with 10 hours per week of study - one day per week after school and on Saturdays. There are 10 hours of flying, 40 hours of mechanical skills/academic study and 10 hours of mentoring, tutoring and field trips. Agreements between the parent and student and between MALTA and the student are required.

In 2009, Ezekiel Miller expressed an interest in learning to fly. His grandmother, Margie Brown, happened upon a two year-old article about MALTA during a "spring clean" in November 2010 and gave it to him.

"First, we contacted Ben Henderson to see if the course was still offered. I then asked Ben if he might speak with Zeke to gauge the seriousness of his intent. Sometimes teenagers' interests are fleeting. When Zeke went up in a plane in January 2011, it was evident he wanted to fly," explained Brown.

"I'm going through ground training which entails learning about the rules and regulations associated with flight. It's akin to studying the driver's handbook. Flying isn't just about taking a plane up. The manual accompanies me everywhere so I can read it whenever there is down-time, such as on the BART. Ben's Cessna-150 has dual-controls that enable my instructor Quincey Carr and me to take turns to fly. A soft touch is required," stated Miller.

Miller, a Berkeley High School student who will turn 17 in May, keeps an open mind about his career paths. For now, he is simply working towards his private pilot's license. He is happy to remain a private pilot if commercial aviation does not capture his interest.

"You need at least 40 hours of flight for a private pilot's license and 250 hours to qualify as a licensed commercial pilot," explained Carr who volunteers as Miller's instructor with the MALTA program. "The way to become a flight instructor or obtain a flying job is to accumulate additional time which can include teaching. Flight instructors typically have between 900 and 1,200 hours of flight which is costly. The military is one way of achieving that goal but you're required to serve for approximately eight years before attending flight school."

There are examinations. The private pilot's written test book contains 900 questions of which 60 are presented for the test; the student must score 70 percent to pass. There is also a three-hour oral examination on the same 60 questions on the day of the private pilot check ride plus a 90-minute solo flight.

"Ultimately, the time it takes to qualify depends on the student but I'd recommend they don't prolong the process otherwise they will need to refresh their memories," added Carr. "Once qualified, it's important to fly regularly, too."

Through the MALTA program, Henderson also mentors and tutors Alex Bassett, a FAA-certified Powerplant maintenance mechanic who is working on his Airframe certification. Bassett echoes Carr's sentiments about the need to practice. With a certificate number he has the authority to sign-off maintenance jobs and produce reports. Becoming a mechanic entails passing oral, practical and written tests.

"The US is one the few countries that certifies its mechanics to work on all aircraft types but the mechanic's training record must show that s/he is qualified for a given maintenance job on a particular aircraft. In other countries, mechanics are certified to work only on a specific type of aircraft, such as an Airbus or 747," Henderson added.

"Many youngsters think they must reach adulthood before learning to fly. There are some, as young as nine-years old, in other parts of California who hold a private pilot's license. MALTA's program deserves support because of its great benefits," concluded Brown.

For more information about East Bay Aviators (MALTA), to make a donation, sponsor a student or offer a scholarship, visit www.maltaviation.org, call Ben Henderson on (510) 259-1062 or email donations@maltaviation.org and ben@maltaviation.org.

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