It’s the season for Young Eagles to take flight at the Nut Tree Airport and in less than two weeks the 2015 season of flights is set to begin.
The Young Eagles program at the Nut Tree Airport is an opportunity for children 8 to 17 years old to experience the fun of flying — some for the very first time.
The successful program is sponsored by the Experimental Aircraft Association, Chapter 1230 and the Lee A. Archer, Jr., Chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen Inc., Travis Air Force Base.
“We want to see more youth become involved in flying,” said Mike Hedrick, EAA pilot and former president of the Young Eagles program. “More pilots are retiring, we need the youth to come up.”
The flights with experienced EAA pilots are scheduled for the third Saturday of each month through November. March 21 is the official kick off of the season.
The 20 to 30 minute flights are free and are on a first-come, first-served basis. Registration is from 7:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. Additionally, all passengers must be accompanied by an adult parent or guardian to complete application forms and releases.
Hedrick, who has more than 40 years experience in aviation in the Air Force as a flight engineer (including serving in Vietnam in the ’60s ) and with the Federal Aviation Administration, has flown more than 1,000 children during his involvement in the program for more than 10 years.
“We do this because we love it,” he said and added that the pilots who volunteer their time also volunteer their aircraft, fuel and the cost to maintain the planes. “We’re not reimbursed.”
Aubrey Matthews, past president of the local chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen and current president of the Young Eagles program, agreed that it’s a joyful experience.
“I got involved because I love flying,” he said. “I see those happy faces after they land. They’re very excited and some come back again.”
Matthews said it’s not uncommon for some Young Eagles to further themselves in the aviation field. The program at the Nut Tree, along with the Experimental Aircraft Association, helps with that process and often gives scholarships to students. For every Young Eagles flight, the EAA credits the chapter $5. The local program sees 500 to 700 students each year.
Hedrick said some of the children have never flown in an airplane before.
“Safety is first,” he said. “The flights are short and we’re very cognizant of who gets in an airplane with who.
“It maybe not a long flight, but we want this to be a good experience,” he continued. “It’s really about the kids. We want to get them started early, not terrify them.”
Additionally, those children that participate can sign their name in the world’s largest log book online on the association’s website.
The EAA Young Eagles program was launched in 1992 to give people the opportunity to go flying in a general aviation airplane.
“Aviation is exciting and vital to our nation’s future and the best way to convey that message is to actually experience flight in a first-hand setting,” according to EAA officials.
To date, more than 1.9 million Young Eagles flights throughout the country have taken children up in the sky.
The children’s program has been such a success that the EAA started offering flights to adults who are interested in flying. EAA’s Eagle Flights are a way to help prospective pilots get their first taste of personal aviation, free of charge. An Eagle Flight is a hands-on introduction, where an EAA member pilot will give those interested a thorough introduction to what it’s like to fly their own airplane.
Additional information about the programs is available online at www.eaa.org/en/eaa under flight experiences. Information about the local program is available by calling Howard Gunn at 448-0589 or Gerald Gordon at 446-8532.