BULLHEAD CITY — First-time flyers are almost always a little nervous.
“When you’re a first-time flyer and you’re only 11 years old, the anxiety can ramp up,” said Jim Mullins. “We give the kids a little orientation on the ground before they take off to try to dispel the fear of flying their parents put into them.”
Mullins, a volunteer with Kingman’s Experimental Aircraft Association Chapter 765, was at Laughlin/Bullhead International Airport on Saturday to help with the airport’s third annual Young Eagles Day.
Waiting to board his first flight, 10-year-old Rami Yousef said he wasn’t scared, just a little nervous.
“It feels a little like I’m letting go of my soul right now,” said Yousef’s mother, Teresa Ayyoub. “He’s my only baby. But you have to let go and encourage them to try new things, even if it isn’t something you’d do yourself. I don’t want him to think he has any limits.”
The Experimental Aircraft Association Young Eagles program was launched in 1992 to give young people an opportunity to go flying in a general aviation airplane. The flights are made possible by EAA member pilots and are offered free of charge to children between the ages of 8 and 17.
“We love doing this event,” said Jeremy Keating, director of the Laughlin/Bullhead International Airport. “Not only does it give young people an introduction to aviation, it’s a lot of fun for everyone involved.”
A couple of Young Eagles were making return visits.
“The first time it was scary, but I was by myself,” said 13-year-old Ivan Ballesteros, taking his second flight with the Young Eagles program. “I like heights and looking at the view. You see the casinos, pools and a lot of desert.”
Ballesteros’ friend, 10-year-old Adam Badilla, was also taking his second Young Eagles flight.
“I love seeing the view of the whole city,” he said. “I’m thinking about learning to fly.”
That reaction is exactly what the EAA has in mind.
“The goal of the Young Eagles program is to introduce young people to aviation and to plant the seed for a potential career in aviation,” Keating said. “Aviation is facing a pilot shortage over the next decade. The young people of today are our next generation of pilots and we want to get them excited now.”
Since 1992, more than 1.6 million Young Eagles have enjoyed a flight through the program. Young Eagles have been registered in more than 90 countries and have been flown by more than 42,000 volunteer pilots.
Once a young person becomes a part of the Young Eagles program through a free flight, he or she has opportunities to participate in other programs including online ground school, the EAA Air Academy or EAA scholarships, Keating said.
“This is our third year hosting the event,” he added. “Last year we had more than 120 young people take a 15-minute flight with Kingman EAA pilots. We’re hoping to break that record today — registration officially began at 8:30 and people started lining up this morning at 7:30.”
Marina Smith’s family was among the interested children.
“Once they heard about it, my kids were begging to come,” she said, having brought Michelle Ramos, 14, Michael Ramos, 13, and Fernando Ramos, 10. “The idea isn’t scary for them, they love it. I wouldn’t do it myself and I haven’t brought my youngest yet, he’s only 7.
“My daughter Michelle, though, she’s interested in flying and in the ROTC. She’s very excited about the opportunity to fly.”
Volunteers from the Mohave County Airport Authority, Landmark Aviation, Civil Air Patrol Mohave Valley Composite Squadron, and Mohave High School JROTC were on hand to make the day fun and safe for everyone involved.
“I love it, I want to fly airplanes for the Air Force,” said Cadet Airman First Class Robert McDonald, 14, of the CAP cadet program. “I’ve helped with a couple of these events, they are really fun. It also helps with self-discipline.”
The Kingman EAA chapter brought seven planes and pilots, along with 15 other volunteers to register Young Eagles, provide escorts, and provide for other safety needs. The pilots volunteer their time and their aircraft to the Young Eagles program.
“Some of us drove down and some of us flew down (from Kingman),” said Mullins. “All of us want to get kids excited about aviation.”