The skies over Pinehurst were crowded on Saturday, Dec. 5, as local pilots provided a full day of free airplane rides to the young people of the area.
Sponsored by the Experimental Aircraft Association Chapter No. 1220, based at the Carthage Airport, and hosted by the Moore County Airport, this semiannual event is known as the “Young Eagles Fly-In.”
“We typically get 100 kids at these events, but every year it gets bigger. This Saturday, we flew 184 kids, plus a couple of parents and all of the ROTC cadets, using just 11 airplanes,” said Jim Murray, Young Eagles project coordinator. “Young people just love the adventure of flying.”
The Young Eagles event is scheduled semiannually at the Moore County Airport, usually in December and May. The program is open to any child ages 8-17; children do not need to be Moore County residents. The local pilots also support smaller, less structured events for Boy Scouts troops or ROTC cadets from time to time during the year. For most of the youngsters, the experience is their first airplane ride.
The town of Carthage had the most fliers, with 41 kids participating. Whispering Pines had 23 students, Vass sent 19, Pinehurst had 16, and Southern Pines had 15 students involved. Other participants came from as far as Raeford, Fayetteville, Spring Lake, and even Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Joellen Lind, a parent visiting the airport, wrote an email to Murray, thanking all the pilots very much “for giving my children the opportunity to experience flight in a private aircraft. They had a blast yesterday.”
The airport donated 245 gallons of aviation gasoline in support of the event. Bob Zschoche, the retiring mayor of Whispering Pines and a member of the Airport Authority, was walking the ramp, talking to pilots and fliers. “A few hundred gallons of gas is a great investment,” he said, “considering that more than 300 county residents were able to visit our airport and learn a little about aviation.”
“Flying is a wonderful sport and possibly a gateway to a great career,” said Roland Gilliam, E.A.A. chapter president and one of this Saturday’s pilots. “The goal of the Young Eagles program is to introduce kids to the fun and excitement of flying, and perhaps get them involved in a great career in aviation, engineering, meteorology or some other aspect of the aerospace industry.”
“It is a rewarding but exhausting day,” said Ed Watters, the pilot who flew the most kids on Saturday, using an ultra-modern four-seat Cirrus 22 airplane. “The kids are excited, and curious, and sometimes a little scared. They all comment on the swimming pools they see, or the size of the forests surrounding Moore County. Every flight is different, but by the time you’ve done it 10 or 11 times in a day, it really wears you out!”
Watters made 13 flights on Saturday (Ed. Note: The writer also made 13 flights). Murray flew 10 flights, Dick Harpster flew nine, John Shearer flew six missions in his twin-engined Piper Aztec, Barry Buchele flew four flights, Jim Poitras, Jim Fisher and Jan Squillace — the sole female pilot — each flew three. Leroy Walker and Ken Haenlein made two flights and Tom Gardiner, from Roanoke Virginia, made a flight.
“The kids are the best part of the day,” said Murray, who flies a rugged Maule airplane. “One gentleman introduced himself and his son to me and explained that several years ago his boy had taken a ride with me. Now the son is an ROTC cadet.
“Dad was busting out with pride. He really felt that one single flight motivated his boy to do good things.”
The most popular sightseeing destinations are Pinecrest High School, Walmart and McDonald’s.
“There’s something about the red roof on the Pizza Hut that gets everybody excited,” said Murray.