FORT MOHAVE — More than 70 children lined up before 8 a.m. Saturday to participate in the Experimental Aircraft Association Young Eagles program through a free plane ride at Sun Valley Airport’s Open House.
“I kept it a surprise for them until this morning,” said Giselle Ortiz, who brought her two children and one of their friends. “They’re so excited about this.”
Aden Soto, 10, and his sister Adoraly Stoto, 8, are veteran fliers, each having twice participated in the Young Eagle program. Brian Ortiz, 10, was there for the first time.
“I can’t wait to go up,” said Ortiz.
“The best part is the beautiful views,” said Aden Soto.
Representing aviation enthusiasts, the EAA is an international organization that promotes and supports recreational flying. The EAA’s Young Eagle program is designed to grow participation in aviation through inspiring young people between the ages of 8 and 18 to learn to fly, said Sun Valley Airport owner Jim Lambert. The pilots volunteer their time, their fuel and their planes to take the kids up for a free flight.
“EAA promotes general aviation through the Young Eagles program,” said Alison Warner, Sun Valley EAA vice president. “Our goal is to let people know we’re here and that we’re here to help anyone who wants to learn to fly.”
Since its inception in 1992, the EAA Young Eagles program has provided free flights to more than 1.8 million children across the country.
“When I was 7 years old, a friend of my dad’s took me up in his plane,” said Rick Colburn, Sun Valley Airport EAA member. “Now I own two airplanes and live at an airpark. I love flying and taking kids up for their first flight and seeing the look on their face. It’s awesome.”
Assisted by Civil Air Patrol cadets, the Young Eagles were put through ground school with Flight Instructor Shannon Hicks to learn the parts of an airplane and how to perform a preflight check.
“Part of the goal is to show them they can do this,” said Colburn. “We’re planting the seed in their mind that maybe they’d like a career in aviation.”
Completing the ground school and flight earned children free EAA student membership.
“Our 10-year-old granddaughter, Jessie, is an intelligent, almost straight-A student,” said Kelly Grunder. “We’re hoping she’ll be interested in the Civil Air Patrol cadet program and that she’ll consider aviation as a career path. She’s been interested in flight since she was 6 or 7 years old — it’s never too early to start.”
In addition to the lure of flight, the open house featured tethered hot air balloon rides by Lake Havasu Balloon Company, a radio-controlled aircraft demonstration and a display of collectible cars by the Colorado River Cruizers.
Sun Valley Airport, 5050 Bison Street, is a privately owned airpark community open to the public, Lambert said.
“As part of the open house, we’re here to introduce ourselves to our neighbors,” he said. “Many people don’t know we’re here, although the airstrip was paved back in the mid-1980s. We try to be good neighbors and we want people to know we’re approachable and sociable and we don’t take ourselves too seriously. We all love flying and planes and welcome the opportunity to share that with others.”