Six young women and three young men completed a weeklong soaring camp at the Warren-Sugarbush Airport last weekend, having spent seven days in flight school, learning to launch, pilot and land gliders and exploring the role that aviation may have in their lives going forward.
Sugarbush Soaring offers two camps each summer with many campers returning for several years. This summer there were 45 applicants for eight open positions in the two camps and there were over 90 inquiries about the camp and a lengthy waiting list, explained Sugarbush Soaring operations director Tom Anderson who leads the camps with his wife Jen Stamp.
“I like to have a diverse group of participants, some with some experience and others without. We like diversity in their backgrounds, socioeconomically, racially and in terms of young men and women,” Anderson said.
“This group, with six female campers, is really something. Studies show that we lose young women in science, engineering, and math between grades four and six. Here, we’re creating a safe place, with female role models, that is not male dominated, for them to explore those areas through flying,” he added.
The camp is open to students from the ages of 13 to those who are rising freshmen in college and prospective campers are interviewed via Zoom after submitting an application.
“They have to show a passion or a level of interest that helps the group collectively to participate, but then when you grab that interest and take them to the flight line and put them in a glider for the first time, it’s cliché, but it’s life changing,” Anderson said.
Students learning experientially and in the classroom and Anderson said they are sponges. In flight, students first learn things like turning, climbing and speed control and when they have a few flights under their belts, they hold the controls lightly while their instructor/pilot takes off and lands the glider, teaching them muscle memory for when they do it themselves.
Throughout the week, over the course of 10 flights per camper, the students take on more and more of the responsibility not just in terms of their instructional flights, but also in running the flight line, retrieving gliders, filling out the log books and that work as a team bonds them, Anderson said.
Campers enjoy meals prepared by Ginny Hansen while camping in the field near the airport tower building. After flight school, flying, and debriefing they do things like swim at Blueberry Lake, or go hiking or visit nearby attractions. They have bonfires at night as well and Anderson said the essence and depth of the conversations around the bonfire is impressive.
“It’s amazing how engaged these young people are,” he said.
PREMIER SOARING AIRPORT
Sugarbush Soaring is one of the premier soaring airports in the country and has a very diverse teaching staff, many of whom are young. The camp counselors are also young which creates peer to near peer learning and further bonds the group.
Tim Wilson, 18, Fayston is the head of the line crew. He started soaring at a Discovery Day and is also a counselor for the most recent camp. Wilson and Braden Martens, 16, Waterbury, are going for their private pilot certificates in late August. They’ve been among those working with the campers. Another counselor is Grace Kane who was the recipient of a camp scholarship in 2019. Now 22, she has graduated college and is a corporate pilot based in Detroit (stay tuned for a feature story about Kane in an upcoming issue). Danny. Burns, 20, Montpelier came to Sugarbush Soaring when he was 13. He is now in college and is a flight instructor teaching in the camps that he attended. He has a private pilot license in power planes and a commercial pilot license in gliders and giving scenic rides.
The campers and some counselors gathered in the lobby of the tower to talk about camp and offered insight and enthusiasm.
“It’s nice to be with kids, young people, making decisions and working together,” said one camper.
“It’s uplight and nice to be with peers and it’s encouraging to see that people my age are interested in soaring,” another said.
“It makes a good learning environment because we all support each other and help each other,” another chimed in. “It makes a good learning environment because we all support each other, help each other with things.”
Asked if they’d continue their aviation journey after camp, they offered a chorus of “yes.” Some want to continue with gliding, others want to pursue mechanized flight. One 14-year-old girl said she’s going to be an astronaut and wants to start by going to the Air Force Academy and becoming a pilot.
“There are so many adults here who have so many different experiences in aviation that it helps us understand what aviation can be in terms of a career. It’s nice to have those examples in front of you,” a camper offered.