Daniel Shulte’s pretty great adventure

Daniel Shulte gives the thumbs-up as he qualifies for his Private Pilot’s license.

Deb Carlen | Sonoma Valley Sun

As a little kid, Daniel Shulte could identify all kinds of aircraft. No one knows whence this interest sprang. Could it be flying across the Pond — the Atlantic Ocean — at nine months of age?

The latest Private Pilot in the Aviation Explorers Post based at Sonoma Skypark Airport earned his pilot’s license on May 10, before his California Driver’s License, obtained on June 3. Daniel Shulte is going somewhere, whether by air or land or both. From his first transatlantic flight at nine months to a fascination with planes from the age of two, Daniel has been an airplane…well, kind of an air freak.

Daniel’s parents and older sister have been truly supportive. As his twelfth birthday gift, the family gave him flight lessons. Gillian Shulte, Daniel’s mother, is from the West Midlands in the UK. His father, Dan, a former Marine, builds custom equipment for wineries and breweries. After relocating several places in the west, the family came to the North Bay and found Sonoma Skypark.

“We found Skypark so welcoming,” said Gillian Shulte. “Daniel had excellent one-to-one training with instructor Bill Tomkovic. Airport Manager Ron Price’s second home must be his office, and Robin Tatman was fabulous.”

Robin, a commercial pilot, has flown everything from ultralights to super-heavy wide body equipment. She is the Aviation Explorers advisor for Post 1268 at Sonoma Skypark. Daniel’s school studies are impressive as well, maintaining a 3.0-3.5 through school. He did well on his SAT pre-college testing, but he did have a non-academic close call.

In fact, another interest just about grounded him from school, flying, and everything else. Five days from his solo flight, he did a backflip on his skateboard and ended up with extensive injuries, to the tune of four plates, 16 screws, four bones, and more. Then, more surgery to correct further complications. Before he knew it, more than a year and a half elapsed: no solo test until he qualified in May in a light sport CTLS German-made two-seater. And he’d very much like to attend The Air Force Academy.

Daniel understands that the small aircraft trip isn’t for everyone. He allays fears very convincingly. “You need a much smaller space to land. I’ve also explained ballistic parachutes, and that helps.” Daniel reports that safety training is comprehensive, both in ground school and actual flight.

“If there’s one thing I’d like people to know, it’s that the landings are a lot softer than you think. And small plane pilots twice as careful as all other pilots.” He practiced his short landings and takeoffs in a Zenith CH 701.

Has Daniel’s dad been up with him? “Yes.” Has Daniel’s mom been up with him? “Well…not yet.”

Two groups are hosted at Sonoma Skypark: the Experimental Aircraft Association and the Aviation Explorers, indirectly affiliated with The Boy Scouts of America. The Board of Directors of Sonoma Skypark Airport stepped in recently to support and sponsor the Aviation Explorers: both groups continue wholehearted, volunteer time for the groups. This allows boys and girls to learn to fly right here in Sonoma. The groups were key factors in offering training on the route to Daniel’s private pilot’s license.

In fact, he was chosen to receive an EAA Air Academy Scholarship to the popular Experimental Aircraft Association’s iconic AirVenture Oshkosh 2013. He’ll be attending the 61st annual gathering of the aviation world set for this week, July 29-August 4, at Wittman Regional Airport, in OshKosh, Wisconsin. Might there be a way to experimentally combine a skateboard and an ultralight aircraft?

Flight plan: Sonoma Skypark

Sonoma Skypark, a public-use airport owned by more than 50 community members, is one of the best-kept secrets in Sonoma. Every Saturday from noon to 1:30 p.m., there’s a weekly barbecue in the EAA Clubhouse. Five dollars buys a grilled burger or hot dog, chips, and a drink. It’s a good idea to take a look at the “Information for Pilots” for maps and the all-important instructions so you don’t drive onto the runway. There are movies (typically vintage drama or comedy about flying) on Movie Night, the last Friday in the month. But the biggest treat: on the second Sunday of each month, Young Eagles Day, when qualified, licensed pilots offer kids from eight to 17 are free 15-minute airplane rides with a parent or guardian signature. The next rides are Sunday, August 11, from 9 to 11 a.m. Call the Skypark office at 996.2100.

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