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Flights of fancy: Club promotes student interest in aviation

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

With a thumb balanced on each of the two joysticks, Nick Streiffert kept his eyes fixed on the bright yellow helicopter as it hovered over the gym floor. It was the last period of the day and the Christmas break was a week away, but the students who filled one section of the bleachers were quiet. Flight, even in small packages, has an irresistible pull.

“They were paying attention,” said Alan Pritchard, the Waccamaw High media specialist and advisor to WASA, the Waccamaw Association of Space and Aviation. “That was a nice surprise. Seven members of WASA put on a show of radio-controlled helicopters for a gym class in part because they want to share their achievements and also because their opportunities to fly in the gym, free from the effects of weather, are limited during basketball season. Having an audience also raises the bar for the WASA members at the controls. “It looks easy,” Pritchard said. “When you have the control in your hand it’s a completely different situation. It’s a real success to get it up in the air, fly it around and land it in one piece.”

With his left thumb, Streiffert, a sophomore, controlled the throttle. That gave the helicopter lift. He also turned the craft by moving the stick from side to side. With the right thumb, he controlled the tilt of the rotors, to move the helicopter forward and back, and the aileron, to move it diagonally.

Sam Welch, a senior, took the controls of the pride of WASA’s fleet, a 26-inch metal helicopter. The hard part of flying it is getting smooth movement, “not just shooting straight up,” he said. “We do a lot of hopscotching.”

He plans to become an engineer, though not necessarily the aeronautical kind.

With Boeing now building 787s in Charleston, there’s an increased effort to get more area students prepared for careers in aviation. And it isn’t just manufacturing.

“There’s going to be a shortage of pilots and people trained to work on aircraft,” he said.

That’s a void Kyle Russell hopes to fill. He missed last week’s WASA demonstration because he had an appointment with his Army recruiter. He plans to train as a helicopter mechanic after graduation, then try to get into pilot training, Pritchard said.

A former WASA member, B.J. Havenga, currently works for Delta creating system simulations for 737s. He was a member of the WASA team that placed fourth in a national rocketry competition.

“When we first started, it was all for fun,” Pritchard said. As they went to more events “it made us want to work harder.”

Rockets are still a major component of WASA activities. Last year members launched the “Hammel of Justice,” a rocket of their own design that was over 4 feet long and named for the principal.

“It’s good to see stuff that you build work,” Welch said.

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