FREEPORT — Kerrigan Wingert of Freeport had never ridden in a small airplane before and while excited, was also a bit nervous. As she listened to Glenn Smith, the pilot, speak to her, Emery Heitz and Jordan Lopez prior to takeoff, she said, “I’m not too nervous, but I am excited to see the ground from the sky.”
After landing from the 15-minute ride over the countryside surrounding Freeport from Albertus Airport, she was grinning ear to ear as she walked back to her father, Ty Wingert.
“That was so exciting,” Kerrigan said. “There was one small bump, but I knew I was safe. The cars on the highway looked like toys.”
Kerrigan was among more than 200 children ages 8 to 17 who were part of the Freeport Pilot’s Association’s Young Eagles Rally on Saturday at Albertus Airport. The free airplane rides were part of a national program that took place all over the country on Saturday. The mission is to give a child a chance to see what it’s like to ride in an airplane.
Members of the pilot’s association treated the children to free rides and gave them certificates at the end. They also received a button and had their names recorded in an official log book. This is all part of the Experimental Aircraft Association’s Young Eagles program.
Angie Janssen, office manager of Albertus Airport, said good weather resulted in a record number of children taking flight for the day. The Young Eagles program began at the local airport in 1994, and according to Janssen has been “a successful, exciting thing to take place each year.”
“This year we had seven pilots give the airplane rides,” Janssen said. “I love to see the smiles on the faces of the children when they return from their first ride. They love it, we love it, and their name is then recorded in the world’s largest log book through EAA (Experimental Aircraft Association).”
For some children, the ride was a first time, but for Elijah Haas of Elizabeth it was his third time, and he said he can’t wait for the next time he can take flight.
“I would like to be a pilot someday, and when I am up in the air, I feel better about the world,” Elijah said.
For Smith, piloting his aircraft for the children is a special day.
“It all comes down to the smile,” Smith said. “Some are apprehensive when they get in the plane, but once we touch down, the grin is ear to ear.”