Kyra Gottesman CHICOER
Chico Aviation Group Works to Interest Youth
February 9, 2015
  • Share
  • This year marks the 10th anniversary of North Valley Aviation Association’s Summer Flight Academy for local high school students.

    Originally founded in 1995, the organization was called North Valley Pilots Association. Membership in the club was limited to pilots. In 1997 the group received its nonprofit status and changed its name to North Valley Aviation Association, opening the doors to anyone with an interest in aviation.

    While the group does keep abreast of local aviation issues, it was and remains a “mostly social” association, according to Linda Patrick,

    In 2006, North Valley Aviation introduced its flight program for youth.
    “I felt like (North Valley Aviation) needed another mission, so to speak, for the organization. I thought we ought to have some kind of program that encouraged youngsters and exposed them to aviation,” said Dick Perkins, vice president.

    Instead of reinventing the wheel, Perkins modeled North Valley Aviation’s academy program on the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Museum’s Summer Flight Academy program.

    The Tuskegee Airmen were the first African-American military aviators in the U.S. Armed Forces. They formed the 32nd Fighter Group and the 477th Bombardment Group of the U.S. Army Air Forces during World War II.

    “I knew a man running the program in the Bay Area so I asked him for the information and we basically copied the program. It felt good to put it all together,” said Perkins.

    The Summer Flight Academy is a two-week introduction to flying, for students ages 14–18. It includes 20 hours of ground school instruction and 10 hours of flight instruction, as well as an additional 10 hours of back-seat observation as fellow students receive flight training.

    To qualify for the program, high school students must fill out an application and write an essay. The applicants are also interviewed by a panel of North Valley Aviation members.

    “It’s an intense program and so is the application process,” said Linda Patrick, president.

    Patrick said through the interview process, they look for a “positive attitude toward fellow students and the community. We really get the cream of the crop,” she said.

    North Valley Aviation selects four students each year for the program. Cost of the academy is $2,000 for each cadet.

    “It’s free for the kids. We pay for them to participate in the academy,” said Patrick.

    The $8,000 tab is funded through donations. Those donations come from members and from phone solicitation.


    To date, 40 cadets have graduated from the academy, 10 have gone on to get their pilot’s license and one is now an airline pilot.

    “I keep in touch with as many of the cadets as I can. So many of them are turned on to aviation after the academy. They really have a desire to continue, and tell me that as soon as they are in a position of earning enough money they plan to go and get their license. It’s a dream for a lot of them,” said Perkins.

    Laura Decker graduated from the Summer Flight Academy in 2008, just after she graduated from Chico High School. Her father served as crew chief on helicopters so she “always had an interest in flying,” she said.

    “It’s a totally hands-on program, which is how I like to learn. We got to fly the very first day. It was awesome,” said Decker.

    After she graduated from the Summer Flight Academy, Decker said she was “hooked on flying. I got my pilot’s license in 2010 and am just completing an additional rating to get my multi-engine certificate,” she said.

    She became a member of North Valley Aviation Association, and has served on the board of directors as secretary and will be the new director for the Summer Flight Academy program starting this summer.

    “I am so excited. This is something near and dear to me. It’s where I got my start so I’m super excited to be involved like this. It’s going to be great to see other students discover how much fun it really is,” Decker said.