Daniel Shulte was only 12 when he felt his first rush of being in the air.
He had always been drawn to airplanes but this was his first flying lesson, a present from his parents for his birthday. He was so small he could barely see over the control panel, but the instructor still let him take the controls. That moment, feeling the airplane react to his command, was an experience he’d never forget.
“I fell in love, and knew that I wanted to fly,” Shulte, now 21, said. “I couldn’t be more grateful to have had that opportunity. My parents bought me a one-way ticket to a future in aviation.”
This turned out to be true, as Shulte has been involved in flying ever since, leading him to combine his two passions – aviation and photography – by making a 40-minute film called “For the Love of Aviation.”
The film will premiere at the Sebastiani Theater with a free screening at 1 p.m. on April 23.
Shulte made the film to promote his love for aviation. It includes stunning aerial shots from all over California, and multiple interviews with pilots. Shulte said he was able to work with a solid film crew who helped him shoot while he flew, and vice versa.
One of those included in the film is Delta pilot Robin Tatman, who is president of the Young Eagles and an advisor to the Air Explorers clubs – youth groups who learn aviation through Sonoma Skypark.
“He made (the film) to combat the idea that it’s very expensive to be able to fly and it’s out of people’s means – but it isn’t,” Tatman said. “There is a shortage (of pilots), and we need to get people interested.”
Tatman remembers a 13-year-old Shulte coming to the Skypark for his free ride, and seeing his passion from the start.
“We offer free rides to kids every month. We also give out scholarships for an airplane camp and anyone that pretty much applies is guaranteed a scholarship,” Tatman said.
Tatman is adamant about making aviation an affordable hobby. She works to raise money for youth like Daniel who want to make this their career.
Sonoma’s Air Explorers, which started as a Boy Scouts program, is a club where members learn about aviation and connect with youth with similar interests.
“Free flights? You can count me in. It was too much fun to let pass,” Shulte said. “I stayed a member of the Air Explorers from my first solo in an airplane all the way through taking my checkride and receiving my private pilot certificate.”
Shulte got his pilot’s license at the earliest legal age, 16, before even getting his driver’s license. He did most of his flying at Sonoma SkyPark, but took official lessons at the Sonoma County Airport in Santa Rosa. He does not have his own plane and usually pays around $150 and hour to rent a plane.
When he was in high school, he was inspired by a documentary film directed by Brian Terwilliger called “One-Six Right.”
“I wanted cinematic quality and an appeal to all people, whether they were involved in aviation or not. I wanted to share aviation with everyone,” Shulte said. “I set up a Kickstarter page for the new movie as a senior in high school. I filmed a little promotion video with my friend, launched the site and hoped for the best.”
Sonoma Skypark offers free Young Eagles rides every month on the second Sunday from 9 to 11:30 a.m., weather permitting. Students should arrive at 21870 Eighth Street East accompanied by a parent or adult who can authorize the ride. Call the airport office at 996-2100 for information on local rides and visit the Experimental Aircraft Association Young Eagles site to learn more about the program.