Most people don’t automatically consider a career in an aviation-related field, which is the main reason why the Experimental Aircraft Association holds Young Eagles Day each year.
It’s Young Eagles Day at the Napa County Airport on Saturday, so children age 8 to 17 can get a free airplane ride and learn about flying and related industries, assuming favorable weather conditions, organizers said.
A release signed by a parent of guardian is required and the forms are available on the Napa Young Eagles Facebook page or at the event, said organizer Greg Baer of American Canyon.
The program nationally has been going on for more than 15 years and locally also about that long, and to Baer’s knowledge has resulted in no untoward incidents, he said. Baer said he’s been in charge of the local program for the past five years, he said.
Participants react differently, though for most, the experience is overwhelmingly positive, he said.
“Sometimes kids are afraid. Sometimes the parents bring them but you can tell they have a little fear going on and they get to the plane and decide they can’t do it,” he said. “Others come back and didn’t like it and that’s OK, while others come back and you can see on their face they want to do it again and again.”
Some even pursue flying themselves as they get older, Baer said.
And that’s just what program officials like to see, he said.
“It’s part of our mission statement, to promote General Aviation and get kids exposed to it, so they can at least understand what it’s about — ask questions,” he said. “General Aviation is not necessarily recognized like commercial aviation, but it does a lot, and there’s lots of opportunities — jobs, careers — and not just flying.”
Air Traffic Control is one aviation-related career, as are aircraft maintenance and aircraft operations, working for an operation like the airport-based Napa Jet Center, Baer said.
“There’s airport management — someone has to run all these airports from the smallest to San Francisco International,” he said. “Most people don’t think about it. Just taking them out to the airport, they see the kinds of businesses that are operating in and around it.”
Some eight to 10 local pilots are expected be on hand from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday to take participants on 15-to-20-minute flights on a first come, first served basis, Baer said.
The volunteer pilots are insured and have flown more than a million children since 1992, program organizers said.
The usual rout from the Napa airport involves flying “up-valley to the north, up the east side and back along the west side of the valley,” Baer said. “Sometimes they ask kids what they want to do, and some ask to fly over their house, some ask to fly over Six Flags Discovery Kingdom, but the usual route is up to the veterans home and back.”
At a typical event, some 45 to 120 youngsters take flight in a day, he said.
“Depending on the size of the plane — one kid will be in a two-seater, while four-seaters can hold three kids,” he said.
For the third consecutive year, the fuel for the participating planes at Saturday’s event will be donated by the Napa Jet Center, Baer said.
“That’s very rare,” he said. “I don’t know of another private company so generous.”