Life doesn’t hand out many free rides, but this coming Saturday, the youth of Grand Haven will get the opportunity for a free plane ride at the Young Eagles event at the local airport.
The event is put on by the Experimental Aircraft Association, whose members have a variety of aviation interests and backgrounds. It will be at the Grand Haven Memorial Airport, 16446 Comstock St., beginning at 8 a.m.
The airport will also host an open house Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Free hot dogs will be served.
Jennifer Bares, who works with E2 Technologies at the airport, said Young Eagles has been going on since she was a little girl. She was a Young Eagle herself.
“It’s basically just showing kids the aspects of aviation and flight, and just giving them a mini rundown of the aircraft up close and seeing how a pilot flies it,” she explained. “It’s a little more in-depth than just taking an aerial tour, and it’s just trying to provide children with the education of aviation. I guess the goal, really, is if we can get one person saying ‘Hey, when I grow up, I want to be involved in some type of aviation.’”
The program was launched in 1992 and is for kids ages 8-17. Since it started, the national organization has given out more than 2 million free flights. All the pilots are volunteers who use their own aircraft and fuel.
Flights are subject to the weather conditions and the number of pilots at the event. While Bares said they will provide as many flights as possible, sign-ups may be cut off depending on the number of kids who show up.
The open house is to get the community to see their local airport, which has experienced a lot of growth over the past few years, Bares said.
“It’s kind of an informal event where the community and public can come and see their local airport and meet the staff,” she said. “So, it’s kind of just this get together of people seeing the airport, people seeing airplanes, the skydivers will be there. We love to put on and have the Young Eagles.”
When Bares and her father, Earle Bares, started working at the airport, there were around 34 aircrafts on the field. They now have 54 — “a significant increase in three years,” she said.
The airport is also having record fuel sales, Bares said, and they have seen an influx of companies and corporations coming in. On a good day, there are as much as 80 takeoffs and landings.
“It is fairly busy, and sometimes it just doesn’t seem like it, but it really is,” Bares said.