The Eagle 150, a strange looking plane with three sets of wings and a bubble for a cockpit, finds a new home at the Pacific Union College airport, thanks to the generous donation of community member, Ernest Van Asperen. Van Asperen, a St. Helena resident of 32 years, says he hopes the new plane will increase interest in the flight program at PUC and bring more attention to the small, but busy Angwin airport.
“It was a bolt out of the blue,” said flight center director Nathan Tasker. “We weren’t expecting anything when Ernie called us on Wednesday morning and said he’d decided to purchase the plane.” According to Van Asperen, interest in the plane was sparked by a test flight of the small, but impressive machine. “It just hit me at 3 o’clock in the morning,” Van Asperen said. “I woke my wife to discuss the idea of buying the plane for PUC, and then I called them at 7 a.m.”
Van Asperen’s donation becomes the seventh plane in Pacific Union College’s fleet, but it is a landmark addition for several reasons. It is the only plane of its kind west of Kansas—a mere 20 of the Australian-built planes can be found in the United States. This makes the Eagle 150, PUC’s first plane built outside the United States as well as the only one flown with a control stick instead of a wheel. More significantly, the low maintenance, all-composite design, and tri-wing construction of the Eagle 150 set it apart from the rest of the fleet.
For the 50 PUC students and nearly 25 community members who train at the Angwin airport, the Eagle 150 is a change from the Cessnas and Pipers they are used to flying. Van Asperen, who flew B-24 bombers out of Italy during World War II, says the new Eagle 150 offers students a more exciting flight training experience.
The small tri-wing is “an ideal training plane that will allow us to offer a more well-rounded education to our students,” says Tasker. With instructor’s controls to override the student’s when necessary, the central stick design of the Eagle 150, as well as its peculiar airframe configuration, offer a maneuverability, ideal for teaching aerodynamics and principles of flight. It is touted by designers as the “most innovative light aircraft produced over the past three decades,” and reviewers challenge pilots to “fly it without a grin.”
In addition to the 75-member flight school, the Angwin Airport is used by 50 private owners and hundreds of tourists every year. The general public is welcome to sign up for lessons or a discovery flight.