VILNIUS - Most kids dream of flying, whether by old-fashioned propellers and hot-air balloons or by more fantastic means, like warp drives or superpowers. Now, at the Ignalina airfield and aviation training center, kids as young as nine can realize their dreams by piloting gliders under the supervision of the center's instructors, who are inspiring a new generation of Lithuanian aviators.
In a nearby village, every local boy turns his starry eyes to the clouds when a propeller growls across the sky. Some vacationers tell stories of how they just took their kids on a flight. It feels like a Richard Bach novel. My curiosity piqued, I decided to check it out.
The main building contains a control tower, two hangars and a small veranda on the other side, where the owner of the airfield, Rimvydas Maciulevicius, greeted me with a warm smile and the good will to satisfy my curiosity. A veteran hot-air balloon pilot and a pioneer of civilian jet flight, Maciulevicius' latest project is aimed at children and aviation training.
So far, the glider school admits only 9 and 10 year olds for free on the basis of a selection process. The children learn to fly under the able tutelage of Raimundas Zievys from the Ignalina branch of the Bronius Oskinis Young Gliders School. His youngest students already participate in national competitions. The future looks bright for other age groups as well, with plans to expand the educational program.
If you'd like to spice up a mundane hiking trip with a little adrenaline, the staff includes qualified skydiving instructors who can train and certify you in the sport. The facilities also sport a brand-new Australian-built GA-8 Airvan, specifically designed for quick ascent and fuel economy 's perfect for skydiving. At my arrival, there was a group of young men celebrating a bachelor party by treating the groom-to-be to a freefall into his new life.
More airfield facilities are also on the way, including eight cottages for 24 rooms of three-star lodging, a campsite, a restaurant, a conference center with catering services, and a wind tunnel for skydiving training. With a new power plant in the works to replace the aging Ignalina nuclear station and the general popularity of the area as a resort destination, the airfield and school aim to integrate themselves into the region's economic environment. For us regular folk, this means more things to do while enjoying some unspoiled Lithuanian nature.
Lithuanian and foreign pilots are already taking advantage of the aviation center. Landing for incoming flights is free of charge, and for a fee, hangar space and security for the craft can be provided. You will be greeted with tea and coffee and the staff can arrange for lodging in nearby villas or hotels. You can hire a flight over the surrounding countryside, which is particularly scenic, with over a thousand lakes in the Ignalina region as a whole 's those with the time and upper-body strength can apparently canoe all the way to the Baltic Sea. For the gravity-impaired, the best way to reach the airfield is by the Vilnius-Ignalina road. About a dozen kilometers past Svencionys, make left towards Svencioneliai and in about two more kilometers, you will have no trouble spotting the control tower on your left. If the sky is your home, feel free to take the shortest distance between the two points.
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