WINCHESTER — When Rome Johnson Jr., 9, of Winchester, was just a few years old, his grandmother Cecelia Johnson used to walk him to Winchester Regional Airport next to their old town house for fun. On Saturday morning, Rome was back at the airport for his first plane ride.
During those walks with her grandson, Johnson never imagined him flying in a small plane next to the pilot.
As part of a program organized by the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA), Rome got to fly in a two-seat plane with 59-year-old John Munroe at the controls. Rome was one of about 10 youngsters between the ages of 8 and 15 who got a free plane ride during Saturday’s Young Eagles event at the airport.
The event was held in association with a STEM (science, technology engineering and math) program at the Shenandoah Valley Discovery Museum in Winchester.
Rome was a bit nervous flying in a plane for the first time, but he said he felt more calm as the flight went on. Once he was airborne, he said he saw a farm, lots of buildings and Interstate 81.
“It was pretty cool, because you could see everything, a nice view,” Rome said.
Most of the other participants flew with Juergen Nies, 60, in a 1960 Piper Pacer plane that seats up to four people including the pilot. Nies has been a member of EAA for 25 years and has flown planes for 26 years.
Through the Young Eagles event, Nies has given plane rides over the years to 350 to 400 kids across the country. Nies said he got involved with the event because he likes working with kids and believes it’s important to get them involved with planes and the EAA, which is an international organization of aviation enthusiasts based in Oshkosh, Wis. It has more than 200,000 members and nearly 1,000 chapters worldwide, including one in Winchester. David Ames is president of the local chapter.
“It’s really important that we try to get these kids into engineering or aviation or both,” Nies said. “Hopefully, some will become pilots.”
Joe Selznick, 12, of Frederick County, and Brayden West, 10, of Strasburg, both said they want to be pilots when they grow up. Brayden said he was particularly inspired by his first plane ride on Saturday.
Nies said it can be really fun and amusing flying with kids. At Saturday’s event, one participant was so enthusiastic about flying that he brought his own headset and acted as a flight attendant, telling Brayden to put his cellphone on airplane mode so it wouldn’t interfere with the plane’s radio waves.
Brayden described his first flight as “amazing” and said he saw lots of houses and tiny cars and counted 27 swimming pools while flying. He said he wasn’t afraid at all. He was just excited to fly.
After their flights, the youngsters each received a Young Eagles certificate verifying they flew with an EAA member in a plane. They also received a code that permits them to take an online pilot course valued at about $200 for free.