Kenai teen ascends to new heights

Learning to fly

He always has felt comfortable up in the air.

"I've never had a problem with heights," said Alex Agosti. "I'm more comfortable flying than I am driving my truck."

The teenager is on a mission to become an aviation expert. Staying true to a passion that developed at a young age, the high school student gravitates toward everything plane-related.

On his 17th birthday -- the minimum age requirement -- Agosti obtained his private pilot's license. He had his license in less than 24 hours of becoming eligible. The young pilot calmly spoke about the "many little different things" a person must complete to obtain the license.

Agosti is a cadet of the local Civil Air Patrol, a federally supported, nonprofit corporation that serves as the official civilian auxiliary unit of the United States Air Force. The volunteer organization was founded Dec. 1, 1941.

During World War II, its principle purpose was allowing private pilots to use their light aircraft in civil defense efforts. Today, it offers education programs and emergency services, such as search and rescue and disaster relief.

CAP members Tom Lemanski and Dick Woodin instructed Agosti for 14 months. Lemanski described the path to a private pilot's license as a major undertaking, which requires memorizing regulations, airplane systems, airplane maneuvers and navigation as well as medical issues.

"He's a hardworking, dedicated student to get through all of it," Lemanski said.

"It's not something somebody can do half-heartedly and get through successfully."

Prospective private pilots generally obtain their licenses in their 20s or 30s. During Lemanski's 30 years of flying, he only has known two other people who got their licenses at 17 -- but neither was on their birthday.

Agosti's fascination with planes formed at 5 when he flew in his Uncle's Super Cub from Lake Hood in Anchorage to a family cabin at Kelly Lake in Talkeetna.

"My interest was sparked during that first flight, more or less," he said. "It felt very surreal."

Camping excursion flights and other trips taken simply for the sake of flying kept Agosti's interest aloft.

But it was the CAP's Wing Glider Academy that solidified his path toward aviation. The academy is a training program designed to advance the flight skills of cadets during a ten-day course.

The academy is conducted at Clear Air Force Station just off of Parks Highway between Healy and Nenana.

When Agosti was 14, he was spending hours every day floating through the air in a glider, a motorless aircraft towed into the sky by another plane. The faster a glider goes, the more lift its wings produce. Angling the glider downward, trading altitude for speed, allows gliders to fly fast enough to generate the lift needed to support its weight.

Glider pilots also use thermals to remain afloat. Thermals are columns of rising air created by the heating of earth's surface.

Lemanski recalls being impressed with Agosti's knowledge when he began instructing the young pilot.

"He attended (the glider academy) twice before I got to know him," he said. "The first time we flew, he already had experience with the gliders, and I was amazed by how much he knew about flying right off the bat."

Whether flying engine or no engine, Agosti said he experiences no fear while up in the air. He reads accident reports in hopes of learning from other pilots' errors.

"Pilots make mistakes, and it's sad and tragic, but you can learn from them," he said.

Other than his uncle who owns the Super Cub, none of Agosti's family members fly planes. He takes extra measures to ensure he learns everything he possibly can about aviation.

Although only a junior at Kenai Central High School, he enrolled in a private pilot ground school course and received college credit. He attended the ground school while a sophomore.

Having obtained his license, he helps out fellow pilots with personal projects to remain around and learn about planes as frequently as possible. When he's not sanding a plane's frame or working on instrument panels he shovels snow for extra cash, much like a regular teenager. However, thoughts of ascent pervade his mind.

"I've always looked up to the sky whenever a plane's flying by, and I'm like 'dang that guy is lucky,' when I'm down on the ground shoveling," he said. "Flying is the only thing I've ever truly wanted to do."

Agosti could take a few routes, but he said he believes the most likely one is getting a commercial pilot's license and working for a smaller regional carrier, such as Era Alaska, or an air taxi like Kenai Aviation.
He'll fly for the rest of his life, he said.

"Without a doubt," he said. "I'll fly and continue flying. I'm no expert pilot, but I'm going to keep learning and expanding my skills in the field of aviation."

Jerzy Shedlock can be reached at jerzy.shedlock@peninsulaclarion.com.

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