student's interest in flying sparks oral history project
about municipal airport
Story by Mimi Ko Cruz
March 6, 2006
When Shelley Alongi is flying in a small plane, listening
to the rapid propeller clicking and radio chatter, her view
is clear: She sees tranquil meadows, mountains and streams
that soothe her mind.
The 39-year-old grad student is blind and can't fly
a Cessna 172 by herself, but that doesn't stop her
from climbing aboard. She loves the feeling she gets when
she's flying. She even founded Titan Visual Flight
Rules, a student club that she heads as president.
"Flying relaxes me" Alongi said. "I think
people need to do things that make them relax because we're
all just too tense. We're rushing from our cradles
to our graves and don't have time to enjoy life."
Her fondness for flying was born out of curiosity.
In 2001, a small airplane made an emergency landing at Troy
High School, four blocks from Alongi's Fullerton apartment.
"It was 5:55 in the morning when I heard this siren
and all these helicopters" she said. "The noise
was really close so I turned the radio on KNX and the traffic
report mentioned that a small plane landed on the baseball
field at Troy High School."
The report also mentioned the pilot's name, Dale Ploung,
and Alongi immediately began a search for him online. Her
computer is voice activated and can translate written words
to sound. Alongi said she sent Ploung e-mail, congratulating
him on the safe landing. He replied, giving her more details
about the incident using lots of technical jargon that prompted
Alongi to do some research.
The research fueled her interest in small planes and she
found her way to Fullerton Municipal Airport, where she learned
even more. It was there that she met flight instructors who
took her on flights over the years. Now, she wants everyone
else to learn about the 78-year-old municipal airport.
Alongi organized a celebratory program March 8 at the Titan
Student Union. The program included a photo exhibit, dinner
and reminiscences of the airport by the Fullerton 99s, a
female pilots association. The exhibit also included a documentary
film, featuring interviews that Alongi conducted with airport
authorities and pilots.
"A lot of people don't even know Fullerton has
an airport," she said. "I want people to learn
that the airport is here and that it is providing vital services.
For example, the CHP and Orange County Fire Authority do
air operations from here."
Alongi plans to expand her documentary with additional interviews
of people connected to the airport. The project eventually
will be archived with the university's Center for Oral
and Public History.
"In spite of being imaged through tightly manageable
stereotypes, both municipal airports like the one in Fullerton
and disabled students, such as Shelley Alongi, are alike
in being tremendous community resources" said Art
Hansen, emeritus professor of history and center director. "Both
are challenged by their apparent limitations, but both work
resourcefully and tirelessly to service the unmet needs of
the community. Without the existence of either of these resources,
the community of Fullerton would be a far less rich place
to live and to work. Shelley has never mentioned this
point, but I think her vision for this project was rooted
in the conjunction she sensed between an institution and
herself in terms of both going that extra mile to make a
Alongi lost her sight at the age of 2 to cancer of the retina
and removal of her optic nerves. Being blind, however, does
not impair her goals: "I see myself writing books and
owning a restaurant in an airport" said Alongi, who
earned her bachelor of arts degree in music in 1995.
She's already written scores of short stories that
have been posted on the website storymania.com. Many of her
stories are about pilots and weave in descriptions on flying
techniques. Her research on planes and flying has helped
Alongi make her stories "more realistic" she
Another project she wants to launch is a video with a series
of landscape shots taken from above and set to soft music.
The video would reflect what she "sees" when
she is flying in a small plane.
"It's just relaxing" she said. "I've
learned to relax through flying and that has taught me what's
important in life. For me, it's friends and God and
||Shelley Alongi, (714) 525-9632 or titan_VFR@adelphia.net
Mimi Ko Cruz, Public Affairs, 657-278-7586 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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