They lined up to watch wide-eyed with wonder as the flying machines buzzed, whirred and defied gravity.
The aircraft glided down the runway, lifted away from the earth and into the great blue sky, the silence of the air and the space of dreams.
Eager aviators 8 to 17 years old took part Saturday morning in the annual Young Eagles Flight Rally presented by the Experimental Aircraft Association, or EAA, Chapter 75 at the Davenport Municipal Airport.
Children could fly for free with an experienced pilot as long as their parents signed a release waiver. In addition to an indelible memory, each passenger received a certificate making them an official Young Eagle, a log book registering the flight and the honor of being entered into the World’s Largest Logbook, which is on permanent display at the EAA Air Adventure Museum in Oshkosh, Wis.
Nearly 2 million children nationwide have participated in the program since it launched in 1992, including thousands from the Quad-Cities, said John Vahrenwald, an organizer of the event.
“It’s honorable to do this for young people,” he said. “They should at least experience the freedom of flight at least once. All the kids seem to really like it, and it’s a great way to get them interested in aviation.”
Under a brilliant blue sky adorned with the slightest wisps of white cotton candy-like clouds, pilots explained the intricacies of their planes to a rapt audience of several dozen children and adults. In the background, a handful of brightly colored planes emblazoned with striking designs revved and rested on the tarmac.
The children were enchanted by the experience.
“I thought it was awesome. I liked it that we went up high and I felt the raising air,” Morgann Hatcher, 6, of Silvis, said.
“It was good. I like going fast up in the air,” Jaxyn Dingbaum, 8, of DeWitt, Iowa, said.
“It was really cool being up in the air and feeling weightless,” Spencer Struss, 9, of Davenport, said.
Parents were impressed, too.
“I think it’s pretty cool that they’re doing it for free,” said Morgann’s dad, Patrick Hatcher, 29, of Silvis. “She’s always been fascinated with planes. Apparently there are a ton of scholarships for girls that want to fly, so that’s really going to encourage her to keep going if she wants to be a pilot someday.”
“He had a great pilot and a great experience,” said Jaxyn’s father, Matt Dingbaum, 37, of DeWitt.
The pilots were pleased at the turnout and the enthusiasm shown by the kids.
“I’ve just wanted to share this experience. And it’s very rewarding to see the smiles on their faces when they get up in the air,” said Charlie Hammes, 44, of Bettendorf, who piloted a number of the children in his RV-8. “There are a few kids who have a little bit of a concerned look on their faces, and so I’ll make sure I grab the barf bag, but I’ve only had one experience where they’ve lost it.
“Most of the time they come down and they want to go up in the plane again,” he said.
And so it was for a lot of the kids who stuck around after their flights to watch as others echoed their experience.