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Oakdale Airport Welcomes Community To Festivities
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Aerobatic airline pilot Julie Clark, left, is shown here with Alexandria Riedinger with a T-34 at the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association Regional Fly-in at the Salinas Airport. The contributions of the female flyers will be part of the celebration at this weekends Airport Appreciation Day in Oakdale. Photo Contributed

 

Local female aviator Alexandria Riedinger will be part of the festivities at the Oakdale Airport this weekend, as Airport Appreciation Day touches down on Saturday, Oct. 10 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

This open house is free to the public and will include free plane rides for kids between the ages of 8 to 17, custom cars, food, vendors, kiddie rides, and much more. The Oakdale Airport is at 8195 Laughlin Road in Oakdale.

Riedinger’s passion for flying soared to a whole new level when she met Clark, the infamous aerobatic and airline pilot at the AOPA (Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association) Regional Fly-in at Salinas Airport.

Riedinger always knew she was meant to fly. The desire to “spread her wings” and travel to faraway places captivated her for most of her youth. She just never knew it was in the literal sense. Her initial inspiration came from her grandfather who earned his wings right before the Second World War ended. She remembered seeing an old photo of him from 1944; young and eager in his flight suit and wondered what life was like from above the clouds.

When the timing was finally right in 2013, she took her first discovery flight in Modesto and immediately knew she belonged in the air. She joined the Oakdale Flying Club and began taking lessons, taking her final exam in February of this year.

Captain Julie Clark, whom Riedinger previously met and was inspired by, also got her first inspiration to fly from an older man – her father. She took her first flying lesson in 1967 while attending the University of California, Santa Barbara. It was at that point in her life she knew she wanted to become an airline pilot like her father, Captain Ernie Clark; however there were a few obstacles in the way.

Ironically, it was her father’s fate that had a more profound effect on Clark.

Captain Ernie Clark flew in the 1960s when cockpit doors were left unlocked. In 1964 a deranged passenger barged into the unlocked cockpit with a gun and killed Captain Clark. That incident brought about the law requiring cockpit doors to remain locked during all commercial flights and is named after Clark. Sadly, her mother had died of accidental causes the previous year, when Julie Clark was only fourteen.

The major hurdle in becoming a pilot, besides being orphaned at age 15, was the fact that Clark was a woman. At the beginning of her career, she was told “We’re not hiring woman pilots.” The word “not” was not an option for her, though. Clark’s first major break came after college in 1976, when Golden West Airlines hired her, their first and only woman pilot. In 1977, Hughes Airwest (formerly Pacific Airlines, the same airline her father flew for) hired her and she became one of the first women to fly for a major airline.

Besides her 25 years as an airline pilot, Clark has also been performing in air shows for the past 22 years in a 50-year-old military trainer that she bought sight unseen and restored herself. She has been voted “Performer of the Year” several times. She has flown her “Spirit of America” flight routine for Mopar Parts, her corporate sponsor for 15 years, making her the longest sponsored act in show history. She is also a member of the Women in Aviation International Hall of Fame.

Clark expressed that if she can inspire just one girl at each show to become involved in aviation, then she feels she’s done her job.

For more information about the Saturday open house at the Oakdale Airport, call 209-845-0445.

 

This article was contributed by Don Gutridge II.