I believe I can fly

By Gus Bode

High school students get the chance to fly through summer camp

After taking a flight to Germany with her parents, Sabrina Weber, a high school senior from Palatine, knew what she wanted to do in the future. Seeing a woman pilot, she said to herself, “I can do that.”

When she was growing up, her parents took her to the Air and Water show in Chicago where her fascination with aircrafts continued to grow.

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Now, as part of the SIUC Aviation Summer Wings camp, she will get a chance to actually fly an aircraft.

“It’s been a lot of fun. I did not know I get to fly; that is so cool,” Weber said.

Weber, like the other high school students participating, has always wanted to go into aviation and dreams of one day becoming a commercial pilot or an instructor.

As part of the weeklong camp, the students will have the opportunity to fly a Cessna 152, a four-passenger plane.

The joy of knowing they get to actually fly the plane themselves is one of the motivations that keeps the students involved.

Students spend their day at the SIUC Airport, where all of the activities are conducted, from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. The program started on July 7 and runs through July 12.

Standing in 90-degree weather, waiting to take to the sky, is just a small price the students have to pay to be a part of the highly sought-after program.

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The students participating this year are the first group to receive instruction from the Aviation Department since 1986. The many years in between have seen hundreds of people calling and writing, wanting the program to be reinstated.

For the participants, it could not come at a better time. All of them have been interested in aviation since they were small children, and they felt lucky to get a head start in the field.

For Weber, it is not only exciting to be in the program, but also because she hopes to attend SIU and views this as an opportunity to get to know the campus.

Junior Kory Janneke, of Steeleville, is interested in becoming a pilot but is unsure if that is what he wants to do in the future. For him, the program is a way to become educated on all aspects of aviation before he decides on his career plans.

“My family and I decided it would be a good idea to experience aviation and see if it’s what I wanted as a career,” Janneke said.

Everyday the students attend classroom instruction where they get lessons that include the history of flight, aerodynamics, aircraft performance, preflight inspection and radio procedures.

CJ Patschke, a sophomore from Lake of Egypt, attended a mini-ground course at his high school. Even with that experience, he is more excited to be apart of Summer Wings because, like everyone else, flying is the ultimate goal.

“The amount of material brought to us in such a little time is fun,” freshman Mark Perkins from Carterville said.

Perkins is interested in all aspects of aviation and is not sure which area he wants to get into. He said that is one of the good things about the program:he gets a chance to learn everything that is involved, just not flying.

The ambition the students project makes Lorelei Ruiz, the assistant chief flight instructor, glad to be a part of the program.

“They are eager and good learners,” Ruiz said. “Seeing the excitement that I see on the kids faces when they are learning this stuff is great.”

Ruiz said that she is impressed with the students and how much information they are able to retain. She said they received a surprise visit from someone within the department who started firing questions at the students, and they fired right back with the answers, keeping a constant flow going.

“The classroom time is really exceptional,” Michael Bugajski, of Calumet City, said.

He said he enjoys going through the flying in the class but cannot wait to apply what he has learned in the class to the air.

Bugajski’s love for flying began when he was young growing up near Chicago’s O’Hare Airport.

The passion for participating in the program shows when the youth talk about it and what they hope to do.

After going through the preflight inspection, the students will take a seat, buckle in, take off, fly and land, all with strict supervision from a Department of Aviation Management and Flight faculty member.

“It’s fun, and the fact that I will get to fly is even better,” Patschke said. “I would recommend this to anyone.”

As part of the camp, the students will get to ride go-karts, play miniature golf and participate in other fun activities in the area.

The camp is looking forward to flying to Cairo Airport, where the students can have a picnic and fun after flying to end the week.

“It’s an opportunity to expose high school students to aviation and give them a little more education to see if this is what they want to do,” Ruiz said.

Reporter Samantha Robinson can be reached at

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