When a retired Lutheran minister and pilot from Moorhead approached a milestone mark of flights designed to get kids interested in flying, he wanted it to be a special one.
“I just love kids and love to fly,” said Wilbur Fisher, age 83, a pilot for more than 40 years.
So, for his 800th Young Eagles flight, Fisher had a “real deserving” teenager with him in the cockpit of his Cessna 172.
Fisher brought along 16-year-old Brett Christianson, who’s been sweeping hangars, mowing grass and tending to equipment at the Casselton airport for several years and already has a keen interest in aviation.
According to his mentor, the Central Cass High School sophomore also has a knack for flying.
“You show him something once and he can do it,” said Bob Miller, manager of the Casselton airport who also had a career in the Air Force and was a pilot for Northwest Airlines.
Miller helped line up his young protégé for Fisher’s benchmark trip. Christianson manned the controls for part of the short flight that took off and landed at the Moorhead airport Thursday afternoon.
It was one of about 15 flights the teen has taken, but don’t get the idea the novelty has worn off.
“It’s pretty cool every time you get to fly up, because it’s kind of like a new experience every time,” Christianson said. “There’s something different or unique about each one.”
The Young Eagles program, run by the Experimental Aircraft Association out of Oshkosh, Wis., is open to youth ages 8 to 17 and is aimed at getting them interested in becoming a pilot, aircraft mechanic, air traffic controller or anything else related to aviation.
Since 1992, through its network of volunteer pilots, it’s given free rides to more than 1.9 million Young Eagles nationwide. Fisher and Miller are part of that network, giving their own time, fuel and use of their airplane for the flights.
Miller says he’s taken about 500 aspiring aviators up in the air—a number Fisher surpassed a while back and confirmed by a log kept at EAA headquarters.
“They’ve got him at 799, so this is very unusual,” Miller said of Fisher prior to Wednesday’s flight.
“Will, I think, is certainly the top guy in the tri-state area,” he added.
While Fisher became interested in flying as a boy after a ride in a small plane with his father, the spark for Christianson was a visit to the Fargo Airsho when he was around 8 years old, and he’s been an aviation junkie since.
He spends summer days working at the Casselton airport and, during the school year, he’s there from after school into the evening.
Like his mentor Bob Miller, Christianson wants to enter the Air Force or be a commercial pilot someday. Fisher is more than happy to help him and other students go after their dreams by taking them on a flight.
“It’s encouraged many of them, and those it didn’t certainly have had a good ride,” Fisher said.