On Saturday, some of the area’s youngest residents had the opportunity to see Rochester in a new way and maybe develop a new passion in the process.
Just over 105 children and teens took part in the Young Eagles Rally at Rochester International Airport, which featured free flights flown by a dozen volunteer pilots from organizations including the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) Chapter 100, Great Planes, the Civil Air Patrol and Southeastern Minnesota Flying Club, as well as private pilots.
The Young Eagles Rally gives area youth a unique flight experience while introducing them to aviation. Wearing headsets, the youthful passengers were able to hear pilots speak with air traffic control and even fly the planes briefly.
“It’s super cool to see the scale, the distance between cities,” 17-year-old Asa Bratlien said.
Bratlien and his younger sister Georgia, 14, both of Mantorville, attended Saturday’s event with their parents. For Bratlien, the morning gave him a glimpse at his future career — Bratlien wants to be a Navy pilot.
“I wanted to get a feel for a small plane,” he said. “I’ve only been on big commercial flights, so this is more closely related to a small jet.”
Georgia said she doesn’t have plans to ever fly a plane but enjoys being a passenger. On her flight, she was able to glimpse her home from the sky.
Sitting on a wooden bench under a white tent near the entrance to the airfield, Kelly Arroyo waited with her young daughters while her 11-year-old son Liam was flying. Arroyo’s oldest son Jacob, 13, had already completed his flight and left with Boy Scout Troop 80. She said the entire troop was there that morning working toward their aviation merit badges.
Both Ella Arroyo, 8, and Sage Arroyo, 4, were too young to take part in the flights Saturday morning but Ella said she still had fun.
“It was cool getting up close … because I like seeing the planes,” Ella said. “Maybe next year I can fly in the plane.”
After filling out the necessary paperwork, Jolene Young escorted her two daughters and a family friend to the four-seat Cirrus SR-22. Walking them to the plane was John Gressett, a member of the Southeastern Minnesota Flying Club.
“My job is to keep you safe,” Gressett said as he led the group to the waiting plane and its pilot, Tom Pitzen.
After snapping some pictures and watching the three children climb aboard the plane, Young said she brought the group because she wants to give them as many opportunities as possible. Working in higher education, Young said she knows how valuable job shadows and the chance to observe people in different jobs can be.
Getting off the plane, Kailey Young, 11, was all smiles. She got a chance to briefly fly the plane.
“So you flew a plane before you drove a car,” Jolene Young, her mother, said.
Professional pilot Kyle Herring was one of the volunteer pilots and flew a couple groups, including his son Jasper and friends Naomi and Ezra Weldegabriel.
Following her flight, 8-year-old Naomi said she screamed a lot on the plane ride but had fun.
Ezra didn’t admit to any screaming but said the ride was “one of my best experiences.”
Herring, who has been flying for more than 20 years, said it was nice to be able to share the experience of flight with other children and potentially inspire future generations of pilots.