“It doesn’t matter where they grew up,” said Joseph Oldham, New Vision Aviation President and CEO, “Finding these young people, giving them the chance to become pilots, the ones that really get it, they make this all worthwhile.”
Oldham’s passion for aviation and getting kids in the air is evident from the moment he starts talking about the students. He recalled an introductory flight with 13-year-old student Isaac Salazar.
“I’ll remember that flight for the rest of my life,” Oldham said. After spending just 10 minutes on a simulator, Oldham put Salazar in the right seat of a Cessna 172, flew to the practice area, and let Salazar begin manipulating the controls. “He just got it; he did phenomenal.”
“Providing opportunities for these young people to get access is huge,” Oldham said. By providing much-needed access to aviation and lowering the costs associated with flight training, New Vision Aviation hopes to help more underrepresented young people enter an industry that would be otherwise beyond their reach.
Now the group can offer glider training to its students as young as 13, thanks to a $180,000 grant from the Wood Next Fund. Students under 13 will have access to flight experiences, New Vision Aviation’s simulator, and instruction in drone operations at little to no cost.
“Through our work with Fresno Unified,” Oldham said, “we determined that it’s really important to come up with a certification for these students from these limited income families where they can continue to fly once they get their certificate.” Explaining the high cost of operation associated with traditional general aviation aircraft, Oldham continued, “The self-launch gilder is a great alternative right now.”
The arrival of New Vision’s Distar SunDancer Motor Glider in late January brought several students and their parents to the airport to take part in an introductory flight, piloted by Michael Tomazin.
“I’ve learned over time that if you set high expectations for children, you get high rewards,” said Tomazin, who even between flights never missed an opportunity to keep the students engaged by having each rider teach the next how to enter and strap themselves into the aircraft.
Sammy Taylor III, a 12-year-old student of the program, spends his Wednesday evenings and Saturdays at the airport flying the simulator and taking to the skies with Oldham. Taylor aspires to be a pilot in the U.S. Air Force one day, but for now, he said, “My next goal is to get my glider certification.”
Taylor’s father, Sammy Taylor Jr., hopes that this program “can open up more doors for a lot of kids and inner-city kids to give them the opportunity to enter a field that they like to do, an opportunity where they can make a decent income and support their families.”
The idea for New Vision Aviation, Oldham explained, “came about from years of experience seeing the barriers that exist for young people to get into aviation.” To reduce that barrier, Oldham, who has a background in expanding alternative fueled vehicle projects in the region, developed the Sustainable Aviation Project (SAP), a grant-funded venture to prove electric airplanes can greatly reduce the cost of flight training, in 2016. Those grant funds were used to purchase four Pipistrel Electro trainers in 2018.
Now, nearly four years later, Oldham is still waiting for the FAA to approve the use of those aircraft for flight training.
As for the future of the program, Oldham said they could always use more donations and volunteers. “The goal with a lot of the parents now is to get them involved.” Describing how two parents have indicated that they want to become certificated drone pilots, Oldham said, “As we go through the Part 107 certification process, they both become certified commercial drone pilots and their sons get to understand how to fly the drone safely and stay engaged. The family that flies together, stays together.”