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blank 11/30/09 11:13PM AOPA, EAA, Pilot Mentoring Programs

‘Kindred spirits’: New mentor program links students, pilots
By Angela E. Lackey for the Daily News



Justin Bentsen breaks out in an infectious grin when talking about the thrills of flying.

    "The freedom. There's no traffic lights," he jokes. Then the feelings are one-word shots -- "Free. Peaceful. Happy. Fun."

    Bentsen, 15, is studying for his private pilot's license. His flight instructor is Linda Langrill and he takes classes in ground instruction through Barstow Municipal Airport and Delta College. He is the son of Lane and Chantella Bentsen of Midland.

    Now the EAA Chapter 1093 has a new mentor program which matches up student pilots, such as Bentsen, with certified pilots, to provide that extra encouragement and instruction student pilots need to be successful.

    Langrill, a certified flight instructor, said the program's intent is "to use the experience of the certified pilot to encourage ... to be a cheerleader for that student pilot." A mentor is someone the student can ask questions about his or her studies without feeling embarrassed.

    The mentor program has two student/mentor pairs. Bentsen's mentor is Tom Tolton, who has been a pilot since 1976. Tolton has been working with the young student pilot on fundamental planning skills in preparation for his cross-country flight -- a flight each student pilot takes with his or her instructor before soloing.

    Bentsen's cross-country trip will be to Cadillac and back.

    "A trip like that contains all the major components," Tolton said. "He should be able to read the map, understand fuel usage, the weather (and) the wind."

    It is a long journey to obtain a private pilot's license. Most student pilots go through about 40 to 45 hours of flight training. Then there's ground instruction, which includes classes in airspace, flight planning and regulations at Barstow Municipal Airport and Delta College.

    Each student pilot must pass the FAA-approved physical. They also must take written tests in a variety of areas, including cockpit and landing skills.

    Finally there's the two big tests -- a cross-country flight and soloing. Bentsen plans to solo on his 16th birthday on April 6, 2010.

    Bentsen first became involved with flying as a member of the EAA's Young Eagles program. He also is a radio control model enthusiast, both flying and building the models, and is a member of the Midland Radio Control Modelers Club.

    "The one I'm making now is with fiberglass and wood," he said.

    Bentsen kept returning to the Young Eagles program because of his love of flying.

    "When you fly smaller airplanes, it's a lot more fun," he said.

    Bentsen said the mentor program has given him much guidance.

    "He points me in the right direction. If I have any questions, he's someone to talk to," he said.

    Tolton shares his love of piloting with Bentsen, and the two often talk about the airplane Tolton is building in his garage. Tolton plans to fly the plane to all the national parks.

    "I really believe it's important for the next generation to get the opportunity to fly," he said of mentoring.

    Langrill said accomplishing flight at any age brings "incredible self-esteem" and gives young people several career options, including being a commercial or military pilot."

    "(And) once you're a pilot, you're always a pilot," she said. "You can enjoy it as a hobby for the rest of your life."

    Bentsen plans to become an aeronautical engineer, perhaps working for Boeing or another large company. He said he might consider flying commercial, although he thinks that type of flying will be just pushing a couple of buttons.

    "He has a love, an enthusiasm and a passion (for flying)," Tolton said of Bentsen. He said they are "kindred spirits."

    "That enthusiasm that he conveys, it's infectious," he continued.

    After earning his private pilot's license, Bentsen plans to earn additional certificates in such area as instrument flight rating.

    "So you can fly through the clouds and you know your gauges are telling you," he said, adding the first flight rating a private pilot gets is visual flight.

    And where does Bentsen plan to fly off to once he has earned that freedom?

    "Probably to Mackinac Island," he said. "Then to see my grandma, aunts and relatives. Fly across the lake to Minnesota."

    To learn more about being a mentor pilot, contact Dot Hornsby at dotsby@aol.com or (989) 631-434
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