Taking Kids Ever Upward With the Young Eagles Program

Family Featured
Ten-year-old Erin stands with the plane she had the opportunity to “pilot” through a local EAA Young Eagles program. Images: Rick Tate

As a parent, I have developed a type of Spidey-sense when it comes to my kids’ safety. If somebody offered me a chance to fly a small aircraft for a few minutes for free, I would jump at the chance without hesitation.

If that same person asked if my 10-year-old wants to try her hand and flying, that would be a different story. Oh, there is so much that could go wrong.

Yet, a short free flight is what my daughter was offered this weekend from the Experimental Aircraft Association’s (EAA) Young Eagles program. I had to let go of my apprehensions, and let her try this. I’m so glad I did.

I first learned of the program a couple of months ago, when I got to speak with War Eagles Air Museum director Bob Dockendorf for a story on the museum I was working on for an area publication. He stressed to me the importance of connecting with younger generations, and getting them not only interested in the history of aviation, but in being part of its future.

The museum is a base for the area EAA Young Eagles program, created in 1992 to give youth age 8 to 17 a chance to fly in a general aviation planes. The program itself is headquartered in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, and has flown more than 2 million kids and teens throughout the United States in the past 25 years. The area chapter is still new in comparison, and got its start during one of the past visits to the museum from a Ford Tri-Motor plane.

“The chapter was created about three years ago, and since then around 300 children have been given their first flying experience in small airplanes,” Dockendorf told me. “These EAA pilots volunteer their time, their airplanes and the cost of their fuel to help attract young aviators.”

Since the time I talked to him, my husband has been volunteering a couple of hours on Saturday at the museum, and took my daughter for her free flight experience with the local EAA Chapter, 1570.

It was estimated about 90 kids participated in the program on the morning my daughter flew. That’s quite a bit of kids in the air in one day.

It was a simple thing to do. My husband had to sign a waiver, of course, in the slim chance anything went, wrong (something that is always nerve-racking for any parent) but the volunteer pilots were friendly, experienced, and good at making young flyers feel at ease and confident in the air.

Before and After
Erin awaiting her turn in the air, and getting her logbook filled out with the help of an EAA volunteer pilot.

When it was her turn, our daughter teamed up with her pilot, Andy. He showed her the plane she would fly in — a bright red Czechoslovakian-made Aeropro model — and then he took her up for a brief 20-minute flight. During the flight, he gave her an overview of the basics of flying a small aircraft, and let her take the controls for short time.

She told me at first she was little scared, because she thought she was going to “fly it into the ground,” but the pilot was right there in case anything went wrong. Nothing did. In the end, she had blast, and got to tell he school friends on Monday, “I flew a plane. What did you do this weekend?”

At the end of her flight, she was given a certificate of completion, and her name was entered in the World’s Largest Logbook at the EAA’s museum in Wisconsin. Her pilot filled in the first entry for her own personal logbook, indicating the date and duration of her flight, and give her a code to enter for a free EAA student membership, which includes access to the online Sporty’s Learn to Fly Course, should she decide to learn more about the aviation craft.

For many kids, this flying experience can mean helping them discover a skill and passion that may lead to a future as pilot. There are also several programs beyond the free flights. EAA hosts aviation camps, online flight simulator instructions, internships, and provides Flight Test STEM resources for parents and teachers.

Young flyers get a certificate and their own personal log book after completing their first flight. They also get a copy of the “Aviore” comic created by EAA with help from the Stan Lee Foundation.

One of the items my daughter brought home was a comic book featuring superhero Aviore, part of the AirVenture 2017 concept introduced by EAA and the Stan Lee Foundation. This helps the Young Eagles spread their message with software such as flight simulators, paper airplanes, and “personal appearances” from Aviore at EAA events.

As nervous as you can be about your kid up in the air without you (insert), she made it back safe and sound, and ready to fly again.

The Young Eagles program has so far awarded more than $30,000 in scholarships to young adults who, through the program who have gained the desire to pursue aviation as a career.

“There are some big career opportunities out there in aviation today,” Dockendorf said. “There’s a growing need for more people in aviation today.”

Maybe, someday, my daughter will be among that new generation of pilots taking to the skies.

To find a list of program locations, visit the EAA website or Facebook page.

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