March 11, 2006 – A trip to St. Croix was the thrill of a lifetime for three teenaged boys of the "Be a Pilot Club" from the small Dutch Indies island of Saba.
The boys attend Saba Comprehensive School, a five-year, English-language high school with 101 students.
They organized the club last year and support their activities through fundraisers, including the polo shirts specially made for St. Croix field trip.
The mission was to have a closer look at aviation as a profession and to pick up instructional brochures, videos and CDs gathered for them by local helicopter pilot John Ballard from a St. Croix group of pilots.
Ballard flew a helicopter to Saba in 2005 and promised to support the boys' efforts.
Shaigan Marten, the 15-year-old club president, said, "Mr. Ballard organized a field trip that more than met our expectations. We went up in a private jet and a helicopter and left with three bags of educational materials. Every business we entered in Christiansted knew who we were and welcomed us."
At Henry E. Rohlsen Airport, local pilots gave the young aviators a tour of the field. Pilot Ed Craig took them into the hanger to sit inside a Cessna Citation and gave them a quick historical review of the first private jet airplanes, originally known as Lear jets from the first successful model.
Flight trainer Jeff Kennell explained his job and put the boys in his two-seater Diamond training plane.
The real thrill was when Bill Bohlke Jr. of FOB Bohlke International gave the boys a tour of the interior and cockpit of an American Airlines 737 that had just landed.
Bohlke, a retired 40-year veteran pilot, added another thrill to the boys' itinerary by giving them a ride in a new, four-seat Diamond DA-40, with Marten as active co-pilot. Marten had a smile on his face for the rest of the afternoon.
Bohlke said, "I landed on Saba in 1965 in a 310 Cessna when I was 18 years old."
Bohlke continued his tale by emphasizing to the boys the importance of getting an education if they were interested in becoming pilots.
The boys were then cleared for a visit to the tower, where air traffic controller Kevin Strickland explained his job in detail and related his career path.
As nighttime fell, the young men saw the lights come on, and several evening flights come in completing their final tour for the day.
The next day, the boys got a land tour of the island with Sweeney's Safari Tours, followed by a aerial view from Ballard's helicopter during a trip around the island's shore. "These boys are very serious about this," Ballard said. "It was a pleasure to see their interest in aviation, and I will check in on them soon on Saba."
The boys returned to Saba on Friday after presenting Saba press kits to Laura Ballard and the crew at the airport, with a CD of photos of the entire St. Croix field trip.
As the boys took off for the 45-minute Liat Flight to St. Maarten, Strickland had the pilot greet the boys from the tower and wish them well on their journey back home.
Regional airlines Liat and Winair donated tickets to the young aviators' field trip.
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