Oceanside CA– The daylight was fading, at Oceanside Airport Sunday afternoon as a Cessna 172, with 17 year-old student pilot Spencer French at the controls, was practicing take-offs and landings on runway two-four with his instructor, Charlie Wilmot. Spencer didn’t know it at the time, but family and friends were gathering at the airport to witness the first stepping stone in the process of becoming a pilot, the solo flight.
“It seems like Spencer has wanted to fly since birth.” said his mother, Deanne French. “If it has wings, he’s always been fascinated by it.” Spencer’s dream of becoming a pilot was made possible, in large part, because of the Jack Cassan Memorial Scholarship awarded to him by the Oceanside Airport Association.
The Jack Cassan Scholarship was set up, by the Association, to honor the longtime Oceanside resident and philanthropist who was killed in a car accident near his home by the airport in 2008. “Jack would come join us at all the functions we held at the airport.” explained Gordon Nesbitt, Oceanside Airport Association President. At one barbecue, Jack presented the association with a large check. “It was in five figures” continued Gordon. “After he was killed, we wanted to find a way to honor him so the association decided on the scholarship.”
“We want to expose local young people to the flying community. Show them that the airport isn’t just a place that makes noise.” The association has a membership of over 800 people. “More than half of that number are not even pilots but Oceanside residents who enjoy having the airport as part of the vibrant Oceanside community.” said Gordon.
The association had awarded three scholarships prior to Spencer’s, who is one of two people awarded scholarships this year. “One of our winners is now an aeronautical engineering student at MIT and another is a cadet at the Naval Academy” said Gordon.
Spencer has a background in aviation and has met with California Congressional leaders and staff in Washington, D.C. during CAP Legislative Day to present the Civil Air Patrol’s real world mission and its 2014 budget proposal. He represented both Dana Hills High School and CAP in lobbying congress for more funding for education and schools, as well as for awarding the Congressional Gold Medal for CAP’s service to the nation in WWII that continues today.
The solo flight almost didn’t happen, Sunday. Spencer and his instructor, Charlie went to Palomar Airport to pick up the airplane at 2:00PM for their scheduled lesson but the aircraft wasn’t there.
“Turns out the airplane was in Ramona for maintenance.” said Spencer’s father, Allen. So Allen drove the two up to Ramona to get the plane. “I wasn’t sure I would make it back to Oceanside in time to see the solo flight.” Allen said.
Allen did make it back in time to see his son “fly around the patch” a few times with his instructor before it was time for Spencer to go it alone.
The 172 taxied up to the office of Oceanside Airport Association at Hangar 4 and Charlie, the instructor, asked Spencer if he thought he was ready to go it alone. After some hesitation, Spencer told Charlie he was ready to do it.
So just before 6:00PM on Sunday October, 12, 2014, Spencer actually flew off into the sunset. He did the required 3 take-offs and landings and added one for good measure before he taxied back to family and friends waiting to congratulate him.
He was all smiles as he got out of the Cessna and just said, “That was great.” He then celebrated the tradition of having his “tail feathers clipped”, the cutting off of the back of his shirt. Spencer hopes to join the Naval Academy after graduation from high school and continue the process of becoming a pilot.
Nesbitt said the association will continue with the scholarship program but has a few more things waiting in the wings to get the community more involved with airport.