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From Pancakes to Pilots

Tessa and Phil Walter saw a roadside sign Sunday morning as they drove along Route 30 west of town, so they came to the hangar at Gettysburg Regional Airport for a pancake breakfast. As they paid for their meals, a gleeful shout went up and they found they had helped the Gettysburg Barnstormers top a record 1,000 breakfasts served at their twice-a-year two-day “Fly in! Drive in!” Pancake Breakfast.

“It’s an honor,” said Phil, who works for Adams County as an IT specialist, “We haven’t been here before. We thought it would be fun to bring our toddler.” Tessa, the owner of a local luxury picnic business, had to work hard to keep the little one’s attention on breakfast and not the big screen a few feet away for which young people were lining up to try a flying simulation program.

Since they began serving breakfast in 1998 at Gettysburg Regional Airport, the Gettysburg Barnstormers, Chapter 1041 of the Experimental Aircraft Association, have used the funds raised to award scholarships to young people to attend EAA Air Academy summer camp in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. They spend a week there, among around ten thousand pilots who fly in for the event, getting an immersive introduction to flying, making lifelong friends, and discovering their future.

When the scholarship recipients return, they give a presentation at the next Chapter 1041 meeting to share what they learned. Some go on to become licensed pilots.

According to Henry Hartman, Chapter President, thirty-five young people between the ages of twelve and eighteen have been sponsored to attend summer camp in Oshkosh since 2005. Eleven of those have earned their Private Pilot Licenses, and four fly for commercial airlines.

Henry added, “Twin girls that we sponsored last year for the EAA Air Academy are both now Student Pilots under the Ray Aviation Scholarship program.  Our Chapter has, so far, sponsored 5 student pilots through the Ray Scholarships which are made available through EAA.  We have also provided flight training funding to 4 other young people.”

Another popular program at the airport is Young Eagles Day, coming up on July 8 this year. Children ages 8 to 17 can register to come to the airport and get a free 15-20 minute ride in a small-engine plane, a certificate for their flight, and a log book to record their air time. They also take a tour of the airport with a pilot available to answer questions. More information is available on the Chapter 1041 website, chapters.eaa.org.

Meanwhile, as sausages sizzled, small planes were landing and taking off on the runway, while those in attendance walked among those parked, talked to pilots, and perhaps dreamed of taking the controls.

“My dad has that white and red one over there,” said a young teen watching a plane take off, “He’s going to teach me to fly it.” The smile on his face and the twinkle in his eye said to this reporter that he already knows how, he just doesn’t have the license yet.

“You can get a license to fly a plane before you’re old enough to get one to drive a car,” said pilot Dave Speranza with a chuckle. He’s been a member of the Gettysburg Barnstormers for ten years, after seeing one of their signs on the side of the road for the pancake breakfast.

Small children climbed in and out of a bright red plane with the word “experimental” in bold letters on the side. EEA member Phil Roth explained that “experimental” means that the aircraft is fully functional but was hand built from a kit. He pointed to the back of the hangar where sections of unpainted wings and fuselage wait to be assembled into a machine that flies. “The airplane goes through inspections along the process, just like a commercial builder; it just still has to be called experimental,” said Roth.

“The whole goal of this breakfast is for kids to learn about flying and to raise money for scholarships so we can send kids to summer camp,” Roth said with a smile, “It’s about the kids.”

The chapter’s website chapters.eaa.org reveals their mission statement:

“To encourage sport aviation, support the growth of EAA, safety in aviation, encouragement and education of our youth for the development of an area within aviation dedicated to flying, friendship and fun.”

The friendship and fun is evident from the smiles and conversations among the volunteer workers, flipping pancakes, stirring scrambled eggs, and making sure people knew regular from decaf.

Wendy Clark, Chapter Secretary, happily stated, “It’s the camaraderie. We’re like a family.” Her words were echoed throughout the room by other members who were easily recognized by their aprons printed with aviation maps of Gettysburg Regional Airport.

One aproned member, Carolyn Van Newkirk, enjoys working among the tables to chat with the people and drum up enthusiasm for flying.

Van Newkirk delighted in talking about her decades-long participation in the annual all-women Air Race Classic. To find out more about this challenge, go to airraceclassic.org. This year’s 2,685 mile race starts in Grand Fork, North Dakota and ends in Miami.

Chapter member Doug Laptook educated this reporter about the Women’s Army Service Pilots in WWII; Googleworthy as well. As a father of four daughters, he has a lot of heartfelt things to say about what women have endured as pilots and what they can accomplish, both in the air and on the ground, civilian and military.

The Gettysburg Barnstormers meet on the first Monday of the month, except holidays, at the airport. The meeting is open to the public.

The next Fly in! Drive in! Pancake Breakfast will be on September 23rd and 24th. Watch for the roadside signs! They seem to be the way most people have found a new kind of adventure they might have missed out on otherwise. And you sure want to witness Floyd’s Fabulous Flying Flapjack Machine! Really…a rotating griddle! It’s very cool. And by the way, breakfast was great!!

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Deb Collins has been in central Pennsylvania since 1989. Her children graduated from Gettysburg Area High School at the turn of the century and now live at opposite ends of the turnpike, Chelsea in Pittsburgh and Jake in Philadelphia. Raised in Connecticut, Deb enjoys the milder climate and the proximity to so many major cities that Gettysburg provides.

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