Sky high opportunityMath may be Alexandra “Lexie” Thompson’s favorite class, but not for the facts or figures. It’s because of the planes. The windows of the Superior Middle school classroom look out on the Superior Airport. If she’s lucky, Lexie said, she’ll see one taking off or landing.
By: Maria Lockwood, Superior Telegram
Math may be Alexandra “Lexie” Thompson’s favorite class, but not for the facts or figures. It’s because of the planes. The windows of the Superior Middle school classroom look out on the Superior Airport. If she’s lucky, Lexie said, she’ll see one taking off or landing.
The 12-year-old has been hooked on planes since her first flight two years ago at the Commemorative Air Force in Duluth. The group’s mission is to restore old airplanes, and they run a museum.
“We took her to the CAF,” said Lexie’s grandmother, Carol Holm. “She saw an old plane, a BT-13, and she fell in love with it.” So they got her a ride on it.
“She came back and has wanted to fly ever since,” said Lexie’s mother, Lisa Holm.
“I was up there half an hour, it felt like two minutes,” said the 12-year-old. She pulled open the top of the training plane’s cockpit, but declined to take control as they flew over Lake Superior. If they crashed, she told the pilot, she wasn’t a very good swimmer.
The desire to soar has driven the Superior girl ever since.
Lexie, who will enter seventh grade this fall, has raised hundreds of dollars through sales of planes and crafts to help restore a PBY-Catalina airplane at the Commemorative Air Force. She even helped build part of an aileron for the craft. Her goal is to be an Air Force pilot.
“I’ve pretty much helped build and airplane,” she said. When it flies again, the 12-year-old said, it would be awesome if she could fly in it.
She’s also made a point of attending as many fly ins held by the local Experimental Aircraft Association as she could. At these events, EAA members give free rides to children ages 8-17. That’s where she met Alan White.
“I gave her a Young Eagle ride in my airplane last summer,” said White, secretary of the Duluth/Superior EAA Chapter 272. “She came out to one of our events all dressed up in her CAF uniform, really excited about the change to get to fly.”
He encouraged her to apply for the EAA’s Air Academy, so she did. She will be immersed in aviation June 22-26 at the program, housed in Oshkosh. She will construct wings and flying model planes, learn the basics of flight with a computer simulator, see flight demonstrations and experience the thrill of flight.
Chapter 272 of the EAA funded Lexie’s trip. They hadn’t even met her, she said, yet they paid for two-thirds of the tuition for the week. Each year, the EAA members accrue points that can be used for camp tuition or other youth programs, White said. They could have sent two kids this year, he said, but no other student stepped forward.
The idea of a five-ton aircraft up in the air, the rush when she’s up there, those are some of the things that make flight so special to Lexie. She’s hoping to soar again when she attends the Air Academy, but she also hopes to make some connections.
“Probably flying is No. 1 on the list and meeting other people who like to fly, too, people my age,” Lexie said.
Local EAA members like to encourage aspiring pilots like Lexie.
“The guys — no pun intended — take her under their wing,” said Carol Holm. “They’re just a great group of guys.”
The local EAA chapter has given over 5,000 rides in the area, White said, and they provide an annual $500 scholarship as well as the Air Academy tuition boost.
“Any kids who are really interested, we try to get in a one-on-one situation to help guide them,” he said. It’s rewarding for members to give back to these kids. By involving youth, the rest of the family often comes along for the ride.
“EAA is a family,” White said, and sometimes parents become members, which benefits the chapter. “We can help them, they can help us, hopefully the world is a little better place.”
The local EAA chapter always hosts a fly-in the Saturday following Labor Day at the Superior Airport. The event includes a fundraiser breakfast and free rides for youth. But kids who want to feel the wind beneath their wings don’t necessarily have to wait for a fly-in. Flights for just a few children can be arranged, White said. For more information, call 218-348-4033 or go to eaa272.org.
More information on the Commemorative Air Force is available at www.cafduluth.com.