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Getting their wings

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Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneDamon May of Mercy Flights shows young Rogue Eagles the functions of a Mecry Flights helecopter at the Medford Airport Friday.
Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneAres Dunihoo points to the movement on the wing sitting in the cockpit of an airplane with Rowan Pastrano at the Medford Airport Friday.
Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneRogue Eagles avaition camp stops in a hanger to check out planes at the Medford Airport Friday.
Inaugural aviation camp introduces local teens to fundamentals of flying

Rob Merriman has always viewed airplanes – what they do and how they do it – as a little bit magical. The public relations officer and chief flight instructor for the Rogue Eagles Radio Control Club still remembers pressing up against an airport fence as a child, frustrated that he couldn’t get closer to those amazing flying machines.

So it was partly out of empathy that Merriman and his fellow Rogue Eagles members ushered 15 local middle school students past that fence that separates the people from the planes at Rogue Valley International-Medford Airport on Friday during the first-ever Rogue Eagles Aviation Summer Camp.

Friday’s itinerary included tours of Mercy Flights, fire safety facilities, TSA operations and opportunities for each of the teens to sit in a cockpit and poke around (just a little). It was the second day of the three-day camp that will conclude Saturday at Agate Skyways, where the students will fly U-control and radio control aircraft.

“In our club, obviously we have a lot of folks that are very passionate about aviation and all of us have roots going back to when we were kids and can relate to what it was like when we were kids, and we’re just thirsty to get our hands on anything to do with airplanes,” Merriman said. “So we have a real desire to do anything we can to help young people find a path for their passion.

“Obviously we’ve chosen to pursue radio controlled aircraft and model building, but we recognize there’s a lot more to this than just that so our goal in having the camp was to really introduce them to understanding how flight and aviation works aerodynamically, to address the physics of it, if you will, and also to introduce them to many of the career possibilities that exist within the general umbrella of aviation.”

Designed by Rogue Eagles treasurer Art Kelly to build from one day to the next, the camp introduced students to the basics of flight on Thursday. They learned about Bernoulli’s principle and its explanation of lift, how air pressure works on a wing, how control surfaces on an airplane affect direction, then applied some of those principles using their own hand-built gliders.

On Friday, the students and several Rogue Eagles walked across the tarmac behind Million Air, which bills itself as the only fixed-base operator that can hangar multiple Boeing business jets at once. A couple sleek private jets appeared freshly waxed in one hangar, while off in the distance stood two of planet Earth’s four massive DC-10 Air Tankers – the 180-foot long, four-story tall behemoth can hold more than 9,000 gallons of fire retardant and, according to fireaviation.com, are being used to fight the Modoc July Complex fire in northeast California.

Mercy Flights director of maintenance Damon May showed off one of his company’s helicopters, which he said can make it to Portland in about 1 ½ hours.

“They’re actually very light,” he said. “In fact the pad it’s sitting on is heavier than the helicopter.”

The helicopter lands on that barely-big-enough helipad, May explained, is pushed into a hangar, then is pushed back out when it’s time to take off.

Later, May led the group inside a hangar to check out one of Mercy Flight’s planes, its engine cover removed for easy viewing of its innards. After May explained how the propeller works and can even go in reverse, a Rogue Eagles member interrupted to ask the students why they thought that was so.

“Why would they want that?” he said. “Think about what we did yesterday.”

A couple guesses miss the mark, so he explained that when the propellers go in reverse, the air flow is pushed in front rather than sucked behind the plane, which is why that function acts as a brake.

The final stop was likely the highlight of the day for most of the students. A couple single-engine planes were opened up for closer inspection, so they took turns sitting in the cockpit, pulling the yoke, mostly avoiding the temptation to throw every switch and mash every button.

That part wasn’t anything new for 12-year-old Crew Allard, a seventh-grader at The Valley School. Allard said his dad is a pilot for Alaska Airlines and mainly flies 737s. Allard’s has tagged along with his dad a few times. Does he want to follow in his dad’s footsteps?

“I think it would be fun, I just don’t know if I have that much concentration,” he said. “You have to be really focused. I think that flying is actually really cool and I might want to do Civil Air Patrol. It gets you ready for being a fighter pilot and working for the Army. It seems pretty fun.”

Allard said his favorite airplane is the Boeing 787 because he likes the jagged trailing edge of the engines – “really big and really cool.”

“I’m very interested in airplanes,” he said. “I love airplanes.”

Rowan Pastrano, a 14-year-old who will be a freshman at South Medford High this fall, said for him the camp has been a lot of fun.

“I learned a lot about center of gravity and what the flaps do and most of the mechanics,” he said after stepping out of the cockpit. “It’s been a really good experience.”

Joe Zavala can be reached at 541-821-0829 or jzavala@rosebudmedia.com.