Female pilot to offer rides, share enthusiasm at Oakdale Airport open house

Mike Terpstra flies his Van’s RV-8 sport plane with passenger Kevin Kramer, 14, at the 2011 Oakdale Airport open house. Free rides were given through the Experimental Aircraft Association’s Young Eagles program.
Mike Terpstra flies his Van’s RV-8 sport plane with passenger Kevin Kramer, 14, at the 2011 Oakdale Airport open house. Free rides were given through the Experimental Aircraft Association’s Young Eagles program. Modesto Bee file

Turlock resident Alexandria Riedinger wished she could have helped give free airplane rides to youths at last year’s Oakdale Airport Appreciation Day open house. Just one hitch: She wasn’t a licensed pilot.

She is now, though, and is eager to jump in the cockpit Saturday to share with youths ages 8 to 17 that view from the sky she loves so much.

In keeping with the event’s unofficial theme of “Women in Aviation,” the 28-year-old also will be available to speak with children and adults who are interested in becoming pilots.

“I’ve always been an advocate for girls and young women finding a dream and pursuing it,” Riedinger said Friday. Female pilots remain relatively scarce, she said, and she wants to share the message that aviation is another area in which women can be just as accomplished as men.

Riedinger, marketing manager for Hey Honey! Artisanal Lemonade, a Turlock company started by her family, was captivated by flight from an early age. Her initial inspiration came from her grandfather, who earned his wings right before World War II ended. She remembered seeing an old photo of him – young and eager in his flight suit – from 1944 and wondered what life was like above the clouds.

When the timing was finally right in 2013, Riedinger said, she took her first so-called discovery flight – an excursion with a pilot to help her see if she wanted to pursue learning to fly. She immediately knew she belonged in the air, she said. Riedinger joined the Oakdale Aero Club and began taking lessons, and right from her first lesson in a Cessna 152, to the final exam on Feb. 10, she said she’s loved every second of it.

No one else besides her grandfather – with whom she never had a chance to fly – is a pilot, Riedinger said. “This is one thing I’ve done completely on my own,” she said. “I paid for it myself, and there were no scholarships. But I’ve definitely had support from my friends and family.

“It originally started as a way to kind of see the world, really. I love traveling, so it’s another way to have a different perspective on things I may already have seen, like flying over the Valley” instead of driving it.

Riedinger said she flies about once a week. The Oakdale Aero Club owns a two-seater plane that members schedule time to rent, she said. She’s gone with her dad to Columbia, and with her brother to Pine Mountain Lake. “I’ve flown to Petaluma just to have lunch.”

Right now, flying’s just for fun, she said, but she’s working on getting her instrument rating because she wants to become an instructor. “And after that, you can get your commercial license and fly for profit,” Riedinger said.

In addition to the free airplane rides for ages 8 to 17, the open house will include airplane and classic-car exhibits, food and other vendors, information on airplanes and aerobatics, and more.

“We will have fun stuff for the kids, including a jump house for little ones and a paper plane throwing contest for all, and the ever-popular EAA (Experimental Aircraft Association) Young Eagles Program with free plane rides for kids,” event organizer Don Gutridge said in an email. “We’ll have sound and music and some interesting pilot interviews to entertain, such as Alex.”

At the open house, kids can visit the Civil Air Patrol booth to pick up information on educational programs within Stanislaus County. Resources being reviewed by the Stanislaus County Office of Education include a Modesto Civil Air Patrol educational offering of five programs: an astronomy kit for ages 6 and older, a flight simulator for middle school and older, a model and remote-controlled aircraft for middle school and older, robotics for intermediate school and older, and rocketry for elementary and older with adult supervision.

Parents seeking information about Young Eagles can visit www.eaa.org, then go to Flight Experiences and Young Eagles.

The Oakdale Airport Appreciation Day open house runs from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and admission is free. The airport is at 8195 Laughlin Road. To learn more, call 209-845-0445.