Checking Off Multiple Milestones

By Tenley Ong, EAA 1388744

I’ve wanted to fly for as long as I can remember. When I was little, for about three years in a row I asked Santa for a flying car for Christmas. I dreamed of being able to fly to school and fly wherever I wanted, whenever I wanted to.

Growing up, we didn’t have a ton of money. I was lucky to live comfortably in a beautiful home in Carmichael, California, but my parents worked extremely hard to make that happen while allowing my sister and me to explore different hobbies. Aviation isn’t a cheap hobby or passion, and it’s not something you’d have kids start doing at a young age, like riding a bike or tying a shoelace. We never would have thought to look into scholarships or flying programs, like EAA Young Eagles.

Flash-forward to high school when I had the opportunity to go flying in a Beechcraft Bonanza, and I instantly fell head over heels with small airplanes! Originally, we were going to go to Columbia Airport in California, but the weather called for a change of plans, and we ended up going to Half Moon Bay instead. That meant that, on the way there, we got to fly over the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco. It was a totally different way to experience life. I loved looking down at the earth and developing a new appreciation for the world around me.

I went away to college at the University of Oregon and dreamed of flying throughout. I even tried to take a ground school course through Lane Community College, but I didn’t make it far because I was trying to save money and get through school as quickly as possible.

In June 2020 I graduated (a year early so I could travel) and moved back to Sacramento. I wanted to travel the world. I wanted to see Italy, Australia, Peru, the aurora borealis, and of course the rest of the United States — I wanted to go everywhere. But COVID shut everything down. It worked in my favor, though, because I also knew that I wanted to earn my private pilot certificate and maybe travel the country in my own airplane one day.

So, when I got home, I reached out to Stan (the flight instructor who took me flying in the Bonanza when I was in high school) and he was still flight instructing. Upon learning this, I headed to the airport to meet with him and check out the action.

Sacramento Executive Airport has a very special community. At the north hangars alone we have EAA Vintage Chapter 25, a flying club called DGA (Damn Good Aviation), and a unique Young Eagles program. Not only do they take kids flying, but also they teach them how to build, maintain, and fly the airplanes.

There are a lot of core people who help this program run, but on the day to day, CFI Stan Lawrence, EAA Lifetime 399786, takes the kids flying, and Nick Leonard, EAA 705268, and Mark Zukowski, EAA 515662, give the kids projects to work on, guiding and teaching them along the way. The program is funded by donations and Ray Aviation Scholarships. Once the kids get their private pilot certificate, ideally, they stick around the airport and mentor the others.

Even though I was older than most of the group (ages 16-18; I was 21 at the time), Stan invited me out. I immediately was welcomed by five rowdy boys cleaning and climbing all over the airplanes. I was scared I wouldn’t be able to connect with them, but over time I got to know them; we are all great friends now.

So, since then, I’ve gone to the airport every Saturday and have participated in the program as an “adult eagle.” I vibe with everyone enough that I can blend in as one of the kids, though.

As of December 2021, I am now the chapter Young Eagles/fly-out coordinator. I write a monthly report on how all of the Young Eagles are doing, and highlight accomplishments and updates. I also am working on scheduling fly-outs for the chapter this year. I’m still trying to find my official place and position, but long story short, I’m on the board!

Passing My Checkride on Tuesday, January 25, 2022

The airplane was a tailwheel Van’s Aircraft RV-14, built by my flight instructor, Stan Lawrence, in 2018. The conditions were smooth; it was a fairly calm day with a 4-knot wind from the north. I was terrified because I’d done a mock oral exam with my friends on Saturday and realized I was about to go through the ringer. And, I’d just learned to fly the -14 in the last month, so I was nervous as all heck.

But Rob Davids, the examiner, was super sweet and welcoming, and he made it a truly wonderful experience for me. I’m extremely grateful for him — he made it such a great time, and even inspired me to continue flying tailwheel aircraft and potentially flying as a career. You can tell that he really, really loves what he does.

Everything was pretty straightforward. We went through the logbooks and IACRA, and he asked me about the airplane I was flying and the systems within. We went through some of my missed questions, discussed tailwheel flying, touched on a few other subjects, and then took a quick break. I did the preflight, and then we hopped in! We took off and headed toward Half Moon Bay for my cross-country! I “got into the clouds” (so I put on the foggles) and did some unusual attitudes. After that, I demonstrated maneuvers, a simulated emergency landing, and then three takeoffs and landings at the Calaveras County Airport.

My Future in Aviation

Right now, my main goal is to become a CFI and earn my IFR, commercial, and seaplane ratings. I’ve also thrown around the idea of pursuing an A&P mechanic certificate. I’ve thought about flying for the airlines or corporate. I’ve also considered working for CAL FIRE or U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. But who knows — we’ll see where the wind takes me.

I’ll say one thing, though — the future of aviation really fascinates me. With a degree in environmental studies, I can’t help but wonder what the regulations are going to be like 10, 20, 50 years from now. How do we protect aviation as we know it? And how can we adapt our ways to be more sustainable?

Also, the future of air travel in cities really fascinates me. If provided the opportunity I would jump on an internship or job with a company like Joby or Volocopter. I think you need an engineering degree or some experience of that kind for those, though.

And, I Have a New Addition to My Family …

And some news — I actually just bought an RV-6! Yes, I know I’m 23 years old. How do I have that kind of money?

Well, graduating in three years and working at UPS through the night every day helped me save a lot of money. Of course, my parents helped me a ton with rent and tuition when I got stuck. But I was determined to never touch my savings that had been set aside for me, and I was also determined to do whatever it took to avoid student loans.

I wanted to save my money for either a down payment on a house or an airplane. After getting my private, I realized life is short, you never know what’s going to happen, and I finally have the ability to pursue my dreams of flying and traveling — so I spent some of my savings and went for it. I also realized, after doing the math, that if you plan to fly a lot (like I do), then renting an airplane makes no sense. After 150 hours or so, you might as well have taken that money you spent on renting and just go buy one. So, that’s what I did.

My RV-6 is getting ferried out to California from Colorado this week, and we are going to be BEST FRIENDS. It needs a lot of work. It’s flyable, but some parts need some serious love. So, I’m excited to put my blood, sweat, and, well, hopefully no tears into it. I look forward to giving it a name, and hopefully painting it (it’s currently an ugly brown). I hope to fly it to Oshkosh this year. Fingers crossed!

Have you reached a milestone recently? Passed a checkride, given your first or hundredth Young Eagles flight, flown your homebuilt for the first time? Tell us about it at

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