Most of the first generations of airplane pilots -- fighter pilots, test and stunt pilots, innovators and explorers -- were children when they were inspired by the Wright Brothers' 1903 flight at Kitty Hawk, N.C. Inspiring new generations of Kern County children to pursue careers in aviation is a mission of the Tehachapi Society of Pilots, which will host its 10th annual "Celebration of Flight" Saturday at the Tehachapi Municipal Airport.
Started in 2003 to commemorate the centennial of Orville and Wilbur's historic flight, the all-day Celebration of Flight will start with a pancake breakfast at the airport, followed by exhibits of various types of aircraft, a car show, rides in a tethered hot-air balloon and a bi-plane, and most important -- free flights for children and teens ages 8-17, called "Young Eagles" flights.
The society is affiliated with the Experimental Aircraft Association, a national organization originating in Milwaukee. The mission of the organization is to promote a "Young Eagles" program as a "flight plan" to a career in aviation, starting with that first flight.
"(The Tehachapi Society of Pilots) was originally set up to support aviation in Tehachapi and in Kern County all around," said president John Ables.
"It's to get young people interested in aviation," Ables said.
"Last year, we awarded a $5,000 scholarship to a student who is majoring in engineering, which was a lot of work (to raise)."
Aviation has been a key conduit to the outside world for the mountain community. Established in 1929, the municipal airport served as a link in airmail service between Tehachapi and Bakersfield. Airplanes were the only means of getting fresh supplies and travel after the 1952 earthquake cut off road and rail access to Tehachapi and neighboring areas.
As a center for aviation, Tehachapi is somewhat overshadowed by Mojave and Edwards, its more famous neighbors.
But municipal airport manager Tom Glasgow said the community, and its airport, is starting to appear on aviators' radar.
"In less than an afternoon, you can fly from Los Angeles to Tehachapi with clients, have lunch, fuel up your plane and go on to your next destination," said Glasgow, who noted the airport has 85 hangars and is a home base to about 125 aircraft flown by area residents.
Glasgow said that while the increasing number of restaurants, wineries, shops and events are making Tehachapi an attractive destination to visitors, the airfield itself is also becoming an attraction, due in part to what he calls "very competitive" fuel prices. Ables said airplane fuel is generally about $1 more per gallon that automobile fuel, which means it's going up.
"You keep flying; you just don't fly as much," Ables said.
With cost in mind, Ables and Glasgow also note Tehachapi's altitude--around 4,000 feet -- is an increasingly important feature.
"It's a good place to fuel up," Ables said. "You don't have to expend fuel to gain altitude."
"When you take off at sea level, getting to 3- to 6,000-feet is where you spend the most amount of fuel," Glasgow said.
Many current and retired employees in the aviation industry also call Tehachapi home. Glasgow said some work in Mojave or Edwards, and new jobs are coming to Tehachapi as well, noting that ICON Aircraft is building its A5 model at the airport, and already has 60 employees there.
"The skilled labor is attracted to this area," Glasgow said. "It could get to the point where that stops, but so far it's holding up quite nicely."