Chapter 631 of the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) is pleased to announce that Sean Hodkiewicz, 18, of Rice Lake earned his private pilot license on April 15. Sean is the son of Dominic and Nicole Hodkiewicz and in May graduated from Rice Lake High School.

Sean’s paternal grandfather, Leonard Hodkiewicz, served on a Naval ship in the South Pacific during World War II and his maternal grandfather served in the Army during Vietnam. Sean started his interest in planes right after his interest in tractors faded, at about age 10. He began “flying” a flight simulator and from then on wanted to fly for real. His first flight was with a family friend, Pat Ranfranz. Through Brad Volker, Sean and his family learned about EAA Chapter 631. He started going to meetings and Young Eagle events (free introductory airplane ride for youth, ages of 8 to 17). Sean enjoyed talking to members of Chapter 631 about planes, as most kids his age didn’t have the interest and knowledge of planes. Chapter 631 pilot Gerry Winch took Sean on a flight and then Sean started helping at the Young Eagle events. He continues to enjoy being around planes and talking to the pilots.

When Sean was a sophomore in high school, EAA headquarters announced that it had been given a large sum of funding from the Ray Foundation to be given to kids who love aviation and want to become a pilot. The Ray Foundation provides youth with full pilot training scholarships and was founded by the late James Ray, a successful WWII pilot, businessman, and supporter of EAA and aviation in general. There are nearly 1,000 EAA chapters worldwide. Chapter 631 applied to become one of 100 chapters eligible to nominate a scholarship candidate and was successful in its bid.

Sean applied for, but was not awarded this first scholarship; however, because of the success of the first Chapter 631 candidate, Logan Henning, the Chapter applied again and received a second Ray Foundation Scholarship for half of a pilot training scholarship. Very generously, Chapter 631 decided to provide the funding for the other half of the scholarship. This time, Sean was one of three qualified youths competing for the scholarship and was chosen.

With help from the Ray Foundation, Chapter 631, and EAA, Sean started flying lessons and ground school in October 2020 at the Rice Lake Regional Airport with Certified Flight Instructor Mike Nelms. The process starts with passing a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) flight physical and earning a student pilot certificate by passing a quiz after a few flight lessons and ground school instruction. After the physical and quiz are passed, flight training consists of hours of flight time with an instructor and continued ground school instruction.

Sean’s instructor felt he was ready to solo on Nov. 4. This was celebrated with the tradition of the instructor cutting the back off of Sean’s shirt. The next hurdle was passing the FAA written exam which requires substantial instruction and a whole lot of independent studying. Sean passed that on Dec. 14 and then proceeded to keep flying both with and without his instructor.

Weather is an important aspect of flying. Bad weather means no flying for student pilots. Sean was plagued by bad weather and had to quarantine twice, because of exposures to COVID-19 (he didn’t get it) and was not able to finish his flight lessons before his instructor retired on Dec. 31. It took some time finding a new instructor, but Sean restarted flight lessons with Sandi Randall and Adam Lusson, of Romeo Aviation, in January 2021. That also meant learning how to fly a whole different kind of plane. Sean started instruction on a low wing plane. Romeo Aviation uses a high wing plane. Even though it meant a delay in getting his pilot license, the good news was he kept flying and learned how to fly a new plane.

Sean also continued studying in preparation for the final hurdle in getting his private pilot license. This final test consisted of both an oral interview and a “check-ride” with an FAA examiner. The check ride is a flight of about an hour to prove skill level to the FAA examiner. More bad weather delayed scheduling of these tests. Finally, in the morning of April 15, Sean’s time had come to prove his airmanship. Finally, with good weather, Sean arrived at the Cumberland Municipal Airport ready. As Sean took the FAA knowledge interview, 631 scholarship committee members Brad Volker and Jeff Potocnik, and Cumberland Municipal Airport Manager and family friend Ric Brekke, arrived at the airport to show support, hoping to celebrate with Sean if all went well.

Sean passed the interview and check-ride and was presented with a pilot’s license. It was a happy time as Sean overcame a lot of obstacles to reach this point. Sean planned on a career as a commercial pilot; however, through this process and the required medical exam, he learned that a heart condition he has would make it difficult to maintain the first class medical certificate the profession requires. Sean will be attending UW-Madison in September double majoring in international business and finance. He will continue to fly.

For more information on EAA, and the Ray Foundation visit EAA.org; and rayfoundation.us. For information on local Chapter 631 visit chapters.eaa.org/eaa631.

(Copyright © 2021 APG Media)

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