Sunday, September 5, 2010

Young Eagles Rally, a.k.a. why being a pilot is so special

Plane: Cessna 172 / Piper Cub, 65 hp
Route: 40I, Local
Weather: Clear, 66 degrees, wind variable at 4 knots

Today was a day I have been looking forward to for a variety of reasons. EAA Chapter 284, of which I am a member, always puts on a great pancake breakfast and fly-in the morning following Stewart's annual airshow. That alone makes for a great time but our Young Eagles Rally is what I was really excited about.

You may recall that I flew my boss' daughter back in May, my first official Young Eagle. For those who don't know, the Young Eagles program is something that the Experimental Aircraft Association set up in 1992 to provide free airplane rides for kids ages 8-17. I challenge you to find a better way to get young people involved in aviation!

Having the opportunity to introduce multiple kids to small airplane flight in one morning is about as good a thing I can think of doing as a pilot. Every kid I met today was smiling and excited as soon as I walked over and introduced myself. Each and every one of them said they'd like to go up again sometime. Most importantly, they got to see the world from a new perspective and left with a new paradigm for their imaginations to work wonders in.

This is what it's all about - if you don't have much time, start at the 6:05 mark!

I started off in the Cessna 172 and finished in the Piper Cub. My original plan had been to fly the 150 all morning (while the Cub is the most fun, I thought the kids might prefer to have an intercom and headset so we could actually talk up there) but it was down for maintenance. So the plan was for me to fly multiple kids together in the 172 at first and then switch over to the Cub.

My first flight was a brother and sister who were just about the happiest, most excited two people you'll ever strap into a 172. They were talking much of the flight, taking pictures, and just completely enjoying themselves. We flew out of the pattern and over Caesar Creek Lake, passing by the Ohio Renaissance Festival that they got a kick out of seeing from the air. I completed the circle of the lake and then entered the busy pattern and made a pretty good landing with the stall horn chirping.

I'm kicking myself over and over because I didn't have the intercom plugged into the camera until after we landed (note to self - add to the checklist!) so nearly all their great commentary was only recorded to my brain. You absolutely must watch the video above to hear what they had to say at the end of the flight. The other that thing cracked me up was when, about halfway through the flight, the little girl said, "This is awesome! When I grow up, first I'm going to buy a German Shepherd and then I'm going to learn how to fly airplanes!" Man, you couldn't come up with something more adorable if you tried.

After I shut the plane down, I helped the kids out and walked over to the registration table. There I filled out their logbooks and signed their official Young Eagle certificates. We said goodbye and they thanked me again (though, as with all the kids, I should have been thanking them!) and I was introduced to my next passenger. This was the procedure after every flight so I'll keep it brief from here on out.

My second and third flights in the 172 were single-passenger, as there didn't appear to be any other kids that wanted to ride together. I took up a little boy on flight number two and then a girl after that. Both of them were pretty quiet as I explained things during the flight but that didn't mean they weren't having a good time. Whenever I looked over in the right seat I was greeted with a giant smile!

After the three laps around the sightseeing circuit in the Cessna, I put the plane away and went over to preflight the 65 hp Cub. There's no sense in paying more money for extra seats when we weren't using them anyway. I didn't have time to hook up the video camera in the Cub so there's no multimedia from those two flights.

I took up two young boys in the Cub, at least one of which (my last Young Eagle of the day) that had never flown before in any way, shape, or form. That was the slightest bit ironic, as his father had worked for the FAA and Flight Service for something approaching 30 years if I'm recalling correctly. While we couldn't talk very easily, they both clearly were loving the view as we flew around with the door open on the gorgeous late summer morning.

On that last flight I could tell the little boy was extremely excited and interested, so we flew a slightly amended course. He lived in Waynesville and was pointing out some things he recognized like the football stadium and soccer fields. Since he apparently lives very close to those, I turned away from the airport and flew right over top of where he was pointing. Although he never did spot his house I know he came back with a new perspective on the neighborhood. After landing (which was nothing to write home about - let's just say I dissipated enough energy in the thunk on to the ground that it was quite the short field landing) he was all smiles when his parents came up to the plane and said he'd love to go flying again.

So that, in a nutshell, is my experience flying six kids this morning. It was a rousing success and I only had to use one Sic Sac - which was given away as a souvenir to the little girl from the first flight! I've heard pilots say many times before that they probably get more out of the experience than the kids do and I completely understand that sentiment now. Giving the gift of flight to a bunch of kids can't adequately be described by my own words. Listening to their comments, seeing the smiles, and hearing them say they want to do it again is the best testament to the value of the Young Eagles program.

I apologize for taking so long to get this posted. Video editing always takes me a little while and I unfortunately had a hard drive fail on me last week that contained the footage from these flights. Thankfully I hadn't deleted it from the camera so I was still able to edit it and share everything with all of you!

Today's Flights: 1.2 hours / 0.8 hours
Total Time: 175.8 hours


  1. Steve,

    Warren and Olivia were so thrilled to be able to have this privilege.
    Thanks again to you and the Young Eagles program for this amazing opportunity. The gift of flight is one they won't soon forget!

  2. I'm really glad they had such a great time - as we can all tell from their comments at the end of the video.

    After flying for over two years myself, it's always great to see that special kind of excitement after their first flight. Being able to take them up really was more my privilege than theirs - I mean that!

  3. Well done Steve ... both as a pilot volunteering his time to fly Young Eagles AND sharing it with the rest of us reading your blog. See you soon.

  4. Great job Steve! Listening to those comments from the young eagles makes all the hard work getting the ticket worth it!

  5. Agreed - I really wish I hadn't forgotten to hook the intercom into the camera during that first flight. You all would've loved to hear the running commentary and excitement.