Richard Martin says he can’t remember the first time he flew on an aircraft, but chances are good the 8-year-old won’t forget the plane ride he took on Saturday.
Richard was among the dozens of youngsters ages 8-17 who received free plane rides at Elizabeth City Regional Airport courtesy the Young Eagles program and the Experimental Aircraft Association.
The plane rides were just one of the activities at the airport on what organizers billed as Coast Guard Appreciation Day, an event celebrating the 102nd anniversary of Coast Guard aviation. The event also featured an airshow, displays of Coast Guard aircraft and exhibits of aviation-related programs.
Once he was back on the ground, Martin said he had a great time in the air. One of the highlights, he said, was flying over the giant wind turbines at Amazon Wind Farm US East.
“It was awesome,” he said of the sight.
It was also pretty neat to see how small things — vehicles, people, pretty much everything — looked from the air as he passed over them, he said.
Richard’s mom, Karen Martin, said her son is so smitten with air travel he’s already planning for his next flight. Because relatives of hers work at Yellowstone National Park, Richard wants to travel there by plane, she said.
Richard’s dad, Joey Martin, already has a close relationship with aviation. A former member of the U.S. Navy, Joey Martin now works as a civilian contractor repairing aircraft at the U.S. Coast Guard Base’s Aviation Logistics Center. Martin said he’d like to see his son pursue a career in aviation.
“I’m trying to steer him into the same direction as I went. It’s a great endeavor to be able to maintain these things for these people,” he said.
A lot of adults at Saturday’s Coast Guard Appreciation Day were like Joey Martin: ex-military or ex-Coast Guard.
Rodney Bryant served 22 years in the Coast Guard, working as a navigator aboard Hercules C-130 aircraft. He, too, now works a civilian contractor at the ALC.
On Saturday, Bryant was attending Coast Guard Appreciation Day with his grandson, Arquese Parker, 10.
Parker, who’s a student at Sheep-Harney Elementary School, said he wanted to fly because he wanted to conquer his fear of heights.
Asked if he thought he could get over his fear of heights enough to be an aviator someday, he said he thought he could. He also said he might like to serve in the Coast Guard like his grandfather did.
Also on hand for Saturday’s Coast Guard Appreciation Day were members of the Civil Air Patrol and their small red-white-and-blue airplane.
Patrol Lt. Col. Malcolm LeCompte, maintenance officer for the local Civil Air Patrol squadron, said the group was seeking new recruits. Both adults and teenagers can join.
LeCompte, who served 28 years in the Navy, said Civil Air Patrol cadets learn everything about aviation — from aerodynamics and the military to general aviation culture. The Civil Air Patrol also provides an important service, he said.
“One of the things that’s important to know, I think, is that we do 90 percent of the search and rescue for the Air Force in country,” he said.
The Civil Air Patrol also performs post-disaster analysis and assessments. He noted the patrol was one of the few aviation units allowed to fly in the aftermath of 9/11.
Also on display at Saturday’s event was the N.C. Forestry Service’s canary yellow fire suppression helicopter.
Pilot Bill Condon said the Forest Service uses the canary yellow color so the helicopter can be seen by other pilots, which he noted is important because there’s often a lot of air activity in the middle of forest fires.
Condon, who’s based in the Kinston area, said a lot of event attendees seemed pleasantly surprised to learn the forest service has a helicopter.
“It’s kind of like being a fireman on call,” he said, referring to being a pilot for the forestry service.
Like others at Saturday’s event, Condon, 62, served in the military — six years in the U.S. Marine Corps as an aircraft mechanic, and 18 years in the U.S. Army as a helicopter pilot.