OSHKOSH – There’s nothing more thrilling for a kid than to reach the skies in the tight quarters of a two-seat airplane.
Unless, of course, it’s a white-knuckled ride with a famous flyer — and leaving from the world’s largest aviation event.
All Young Eagles flights are special. Wyatt Baughman’s flight climbed to a different level on Tuesday at the Experimental Aircraft Association’s 2015 AirVenture fly-in. The 13-year-old from Oshkosh flew with aerobatic champion Sean D. Tucker, and he couldn’t muster many words to describe the experience.
“It was outstanding,” he said.
Baughman became one of more than 1.9 million children and teens who’ve received free flights as part of EAA’s 23-year-old Young Eagles program. The EAA is counting down to its landmark 2 millionth flight, and leaders expect they’ll reach it before the aviation world returns to Oshkosh for AirVenture 2016.
Tucker, the Young Eagles chairman, said it’s a credit to pilots from around the world who “donate their time, their planes and their passion” with hopes to inspire.
Baughman’s nerves showed while waiting for Tucker’s arrival to a 20th Street hangar. “I’ve been pretty nervous the last couple days,” he said, then clarified that he was nervous, but not “scared nervous.”
He watched some videos on the Internet. He knew what was coming.
“See the smile on this kid’s face?” Tucker said while approaching his plane. “Do you think we’re going to have some fun?”
Tucker took time to give Baughman some reassurance before take-off. He’d been equipped with a parachute for precaution, though Tucker calmly explained he’d be safe while they maneuvered above Oshkosh.
Baughman’s ear-to-ear smile was visible through the cockpit glass as Tucker pulled up to a photo plane above Lake Butte des Morts. The fun, though, was just about to begin.
The plane did a barrel roll and plummeted out of sight.
They took dives and made roller coaster turns. Tucker said the boy manned the controls through the majority of the flight and pulled off a barrel roll on his own.
“Dad, I think you have a pilot on your hands,” Tucker said to father Zach Baughman after landing.
Tucker had as much fun as Wyatt, and it’s part of the reason why the program has gained the dedication of pilots.
“I’m able to see the world through his eyes,” Tucker said.
Wyatt Baughman held his smile from beginning to end, and will have quite a story to tell when he steps into eighth grade this fall. He was asked about what he took away from the experience and was quick with an answer.
“I’d like to learn how to fly,” he said.
The Young Eagles program met its mission once again.