Into Shulte’s wild blue yonder

Some guys can’t keep their feet on the ground.

That includes Daniel Shulte.

The latest private pilot in the Aviation Explorers Post based at Sonoma Skypark Airport earned his pilot’s license on May 10, even before earning his California driver’s license, obtained on June 3.

Shulte is going somewhere, whether by air or land or both. From his first transatlantic flight at 9 months old to a fascination with planes from the age of 2, Shulte has been an airplane … well, kind of an air freak.

Shulte’s parents and older sister have been supportive. As his 12th birthday gift, the family gave him flight lessons.

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’s mother. “Daniel had excellent one-to-one training with instructor Bill Tomkovic. And airport manager Ron Price’s second home must be his office. Robin Tatman was fabulous.”

Tatman, a commercial pilot, has flown everything from ultralights to super-heavy wide-body equipment. She is the Aviation Explorer advisor for Post 1268 and a board member of EAA Chapter 1268 at Sonoma Skypark.

Shulte’s school studies are impressive as well, maintaining a 3.0-to-3.5 grade point average through school. He did well on his SAT pre-college testing, but 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 he needed more surgery to correct further complications. Before he knew it, more than a year-and-a-half elapsed: no solo test until spring of this year in a light sport CTLS German-made two-seater.

Shulte 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.” Shulte 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 are twice as careful as all other pilots,” he said.

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 at the popular Experimental Aircraft Association’s iconic AirVenture Oshkosh 2013. He attended the 61st annual gathering of the aviation world, July 29-Aug. 4 at Wittman Regional Airport, in Oshkosh, Wisc.

Let’s hope there’s no way to experimentally combine a skateboard and an ultralight.