BELGRADE, Montana — The sky literally was the limit during the week of July 10-14, 2017, for four recent cancer survivors who were part of the fourth annual Big Sky Kids Cancer Survivor Flight Camp.
Launched in 2014, the camp is co-sponsored by Summit Aviation, a full-service aircraft management, brokerage and general aviation flight training provider, and Eagle Mount, a Bozeman, Montana-based nonprofit that provides people with disabilities and young people with cancer with therapeutic recreational opportunities.
Throughout the week, camp participants, all of whom have successfully completed hard-fought battles with cancer and now are in remission, learned the basics of flight from the ground up.
The course included both ground school and hands-on flight training with volunteers from Summit Aviation’s CFIs.
On the final day, each student performed an unassisted takeoff and landing.“This flight camp puts the cancer survivor in a position that they have rarely ever been — in control. They decide if the airplane is safe for flight, when to take it airborne, where to fly, and how to land. The decision-making ability that was taken from them at a young age with the single word cancer is given back to them,” said Ben Walton, president and founder of Summit Aviation.
It’s not just the campers who experienced “wow” moments either, officials note.
“Every volunteer experiences something new… a different viewpoint, a burst of compassion, an injection of clarity…we are all impacted,” added Walton.
Camp participants and CFIs started each day with a pre-flight inspection of Summit’s aircraft before beginning their daily flight lesson. They learned basic aircraft control and flight maneuvers while soaring above some of the most picturesque countryside Montana has to offer, including routes to Spanish Peaks, Big Sky and Bear Trap Canyon, as well as over the Bridger Mountains and Paradise Valley.
Each day after lunch, students toured facilities at Bozeman International Airport, including emergency response operations, the air traffic control tower, and privately owned aircraft. Each day concluded with a ground lesson, where instructors taught aircraft systems, aerodynamics and tips for landing smoothly.
Summit CFIs also covered cross-country flight planning in preparation for their graduation from camp.
During the two-hour flight on Friday, July 14, which crossed over Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park and then over to Driggs, Idaho, the students demonstrated the flight skills they learned all week.
The Cancer Survivor Flight Camp is part of Eagle Mount’s Big Sky Kids program, which hosts oncology camps for young cancer patients and survivors.
Each camp focuses on different recreational activities and Montana adventures, such as fishing, horseback riding, kayaking, skiing, white-water rafting, zip-lining and, of course, flight training.
The camp, which is funded through private donations, is free to the participants, with only four selected each year. Donations help pay for the estimated $2,000-per-participant costs for the camp. Crowdfunding alone accounted for approximately one-third of the camp costs in 2016.
“Support from our generous sponsors and an incredibly supportive community make this life-changing experience possible,” said Walton.
Campers are selected from around the United States with this years’ being Stephanie Boucher, Butte, Montana; Stephanie Romero, Mankato, Minnesota; Evan Vengen, Oak Ridge, New Jersey; and Taylor Tenhoff, Cokato, Minnesota.