Charlrean Mapson needed only one word and a smile from her 13-year-old son after his 20-minute plane ride to know it was a success.
“I asked him, did you like it? He just looked at me, smiled, and said ‘Yes,” Mapson said of her son, Jadon, who has autism. “My son, as long as he got a chance to ride, that’s all that matters to him. I was surprised he didn’t ask for the pilot to take him back up again.”
Jadon was one of 111 children on Saturday who got a chance to be a passenger on a small aircraft as part of International Young Eagles Day at the Rocky Mount-Wilson Regional Airport.
In all, 10 planes and 10 volunteer pilots from local chapters of the Experimental Aircraft Association spent five hours from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. taking children ages eight through 17 up in the sky for about a 20-minute tour and back down again, something most kids in attendance would never get a chance to do otherwise. All of the planes had between two and four seats.
The hours given by the pilots, the cadets, those signing in and ushering around the children and all other volunteers was all in the name of spreading the recreational joy of aviation.
“There’s nothing like seeing the smile of a kid going on an airplane for the first time,” said Bob Cassell, Young Eagles coordinator for Chapter 1114 of the EEA. “If no one introduced me to aviation I wouldn’t have known how great it was. Luckily they did; I’m just trying to pass on what somebody did for me.
“I took my first flight in 1975, on a Sunday — started taking lessons that Tuesday. It’s the best medicine I take.”
Upon being airborne, the children and the pilots got a rolling bird’s eye view of the landscape below them, something that never gets old for John Slatner, president of Chapter 1047, who helped organize the event.
“They’ve never seen some of the things they get to see up there before. When we take people out — even adults — the whole time it’s, ‘Do you see that? Do you see this?’” he said. “It’s really nice to see the rows of tobacco, corn, the colors; it’s the feeling of accomplishment of all this world has to offer.”
It was the first time in a few years such an event was held at Rocky Mount-Wilson Regional Airport, though the opportunity exists at other small airports around the area.
“We’re just moving to the area. This was our first big activity after (Jadon) finished school yesterday,” Mapson said. “I can tell it’s something he’d like to do again.”