A select group of Allendale-Fairfax students got a different perspective of their hometown last week.
The Allendale-Fairfax Middle School (AFMS) students took their first flight with the Young Eagles aviation program on Saturday, May 11 at the Allendale County Airport.
“For many of the students, this experience was their first time inside of an airplane,” states a press release from the school district. “Pilots flew the students over Allendale County and gave students a brief tutorial of piloting a plane.”
The Young Eagles program took flight in 1992 as a means to give youth (ages 8-17) their first free ride in an airplane. Flights are made possible through the generosity of Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) member volunteers.
“It’s the only program of its kind, with the sole mission to introduce and inspire kids in the world of aviation,” according to www.eaa.org.
More than two million young people have enjoyed these free flights, but this was the first time the program has landed in Allendale County.
Betty Baker, the manager of the Allendale County Airport, wanted to bring the Young Eagles program to her community after hearing about it.
“They walk away with something knowing they can actually do anything they set their minds to,” said Baker, who was emotional talking about the joy the experience brings to students. She hopes some of the students will take an interest in flying and possibly becoming pilots.
Students were grateful for the experience.
Aun’Nesty McMillan, an eighth grader at AFMS, said she was scared at first, but her nerves soon calmed as the plane took flight. She said they had a great pilot who made the experience fun.
“When I got in the air and looked down, everything was so little,” she said.
Diamond Johnson, also an eighth grader, said she saw her grandmother’s house and the high school football field while they were in the air.
Eighth grader Camron Williams said the experience was fun, including seeing parts of his community he didn’t realize were there, such as some big houses. He enjoyed learning how pilots use tablets to navigate the plane.
The Young Eagles program provides more than free rides. Students also receive free EAA student membership, free access to an online course designed to cover the basics of flight, and a free first flight lesson at a flight school. Scholarships are also available.
“This was a great opportunity for our young students to feel what it is like to be in aviation,” said Allendale County Councilman James All, who is council’s liaison to the airport commission.
All commended Baker for her leadership and bringing the Young Eagles program to Allendale. He said they have a great airport with friendly staff, a courtesy car for visitors to use after landing, and affordable fuel.
With more than 100 local applicants, there were not enough slots to accommodate everyone this time. However, Baker said, they will make sure all students who applied get a chance to participate in future events.
Baker expressed her appreciation to all businesses that supported this event, especially Collum’s Lumber in Allendale for sponsoring it and providing food.