The freedom of flying

Sawyer promotes aviation to all

Pictured is Roger Bentlage’s Pitts Special S2C. Bentlage heads the Yooper Loopers, which is the Sawyer airport’s recently formed aerobatics club. (Photo courtesy of Roger Bentlage)

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following are the final articles of a two-day series celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Sawyer International Airport.


Journal Staff Writer

MARQUETTE — “It all starts with your first flight, that’s the key to it all,” said Duane DuRay, Sawyer International Airport manager.

It just takes one flight to get hooked on aviation. This could be piloting an aircraft, designing or engineering one.

Seventh graders from Bothwell Middle School learn the ins and outs of aircraft during the 2019 Bay Cliff Aviation Camp. Greg Durand, president of the Marquette County Flying Club and Experimental Aircraft Association member, hosts various camps and school clubs to promote aviation to local youth. (Photo courtesy of Greg Durand)

The airport has a variety of flying clubs to satisfy all who may be interested in aeronautics.

Aviation clubs begin with the Experimental Aircraft Association, an organization founded in 1953 by a group of individuals interested in building their own planes. The EAA’s mission is to grow participation in aviation through flying, building and restoring recreational aviation with a community of aviation enthusiasts, the group’s website states.

Though founded in Milwaukee, the EAA’s reach expands to Sawyer with the local Lake Superior EAA Chapter 850. The group helps to keep aviation active in the airport aside from just general passenger flying, DuRay said.

“Their focus is with experimental aircraft building, promoting aviation in youth and helping to develop a future foundation for general aviation as a whole,” he said.

The EAA encompasses every facet of aviation, said EAA member Greg Durand.

“The EAA and Chapter 850 brings people of all ages with an interest in airplanes together,” Durand said in an email. “You do not have to be a pilot or know anything about airplanes to enjoy the EAA. Chapter 850 is Marquette’s conduit to the world of general aviation.”

Chapter 850 meets every third Saturday at 10 a.m. in the chapter room next to Boreal Aviation.

Durand is also president of the Marquette County Flying Club for individuals with a strong interest in flying. Started in 2012, this nonprofit has purchased three aircrafts as a club, DuRay said.

The club provides an economical way for the community to fly, Durand said. Membership fees provide instruction and fuel for flying.

“This organization is the only means for our community members to have access to local flight training and aircraft,” Durand said in an email. “MCFC’s economical member fees and rates are at the forefront of their not-for-profit charter. This club is indeed a win-win for our community, and those who often wanted to fly but found it too expensive … now have an opportunity to get their wings.”

The club is actively seeking new members, those interested should contact Durand at cmsgtdurand@gmail.com.

New to Sawyer flying clubs is the Aerobatics Club, which will be known as the Yooper Loopers and was just formed this year.

Aerobatic flying is the practice of flying maneuvers not used in normal flight. There are currently three aerobatic aircraft at Sawyer.

“It’s important to understand that flying aerobatics is not air show stunt flying but it is focused on flying an aircraft precisely through various maneuvers and the extremes of its operating envelope,” said club President Roger Bentlage.

He noted that one does not have to be interested in learning aerobatic flying to become a member of the club as watching and judging the sport is just as exciting. Marquette may also host aerobatic competitions in the future, he said.

“Sawyer is the perfect venue and Marquette is the perfect community,” Bentlage said. “There will be numerous opportunities for our community to become involved as these become reality.”

For questions or to get involved, contact Bentlage at bentlage@tds.net.

The Northwoods Ninety-Nines is another flying club at Sawyer. Ninety-Nines Inc. is a women’s pilot organization first founded in 1929 by Amelia Earhart and named after its 99 charter members. Its mission is to promote the advancement of aviation through education, scholarships and mutual support while honoring its unique history and sharing a passion for flight, said president of the Northwoods Ninety-Nines Lynn Sykes.

Sykes noted that the club is an opportunity for women to relate to other women.

“It is very rewarding to be able to share experiences that will help others learn and advance,” Sykes said.

The club currently has 17 members who mentor one another and help each other achieve the various pilot ratings needed to fly. The organization also provides scholarships to women pilots. Mentoring the younger generation just entering the aviation field and sharing her own flying experiences is Sykes’ favorite part of being a part of the Ninety-Nines, she said.

“There is very little as freeing as taxiing to the end of the runway and taking off,” Sykes said. “Learning to fly was one of the hardest things I have ever done but it was so worth it.”

Women interested in joining the Northwoods Ninety-Nines can contact Sykes at 906-362-5966 or visit the international website at www.ninety-nines.org.

Youth can also get involved with aviation at Sawyer through the Young Eagles. Created by the EAA, this program gives children ages 8 to 17 the opportunity to take their first flight. Its mission is to introduce and inspire youth to the world of aviation, the EAA website states.

The program is an “amazing opportunity” for youth and may just inspire the next generation of pilots, Durand said, which is “desperately needed” during the current pilot shortage. Boeing projects a shortage exceeding 800,000 pilots worldwide by 2035, he said.

“There is a tidal wave of a pilot shortage beginning to surge,” Durand said. “For youth, beginning their flight training today will find themselves in a rare high-demand job market seeking their expertise.”

The MCFC provides scholarships to area youth to pursue a private pilot’s license and flies over 100 youths for free through the Young Eagles program.

Young Eagles pilots become automatic members of the EAA and have access to ground school flight training through Sporty’s Pilot Shop.

Visit EAA Chapter 850 on Facebook for more information or

to join.

Durand and Steve Solinski will also be running an Aviation Club at Marquette Senior High School this coming academic year for interested students.

Aviation offers various career opportunities, said DuRay, and taking that first flight can open doors to many other interests and areas of aviation. The airport is lucky to have so many avenues for individuals interested to explore, he said.

“The biggest benefit of having these organizations based at your airport is it’s a collective group of aviation enthusiasts that continue to push forward our agenda for the airport, which is to help grow and support aviation whether it be commercial, charter or private aviation interest because it all starts with your first flight, that’s the key to it all,” DuRay said. “If these clubs or these organizations can help keep our aviation community healthy, not just on the private level but on the commercial level, in turn it helps support the overall community.”

Trinity Carey can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206. Her email address is tcarey@miningjournal.net.