Growing up, David Miles said he used to watch commercial planes fly over his parents’ and grandparents’ houses in upstate New York and wonder what is was like to fly.
“Flying is something I’ve always wanted to do,” he said. “Both my parents and grandparents lived near airports, so planes were always flying overhead all the time and it caught my interest. And sometimes, we’d go to watch the planes take off and land.”
At one point, Miles, 53, said he thought about becoming a commercial pilot, but ultimately he decided against it.
“I mostly fly for pleasure,” he said. “It’s just something I’ve always enjoyed. I just like the freedom to be able to go places, and there’s a practical use to it too, where you can just sort of go where you like. Sometimes I’ll visit my parents in New York, usually during the summer, and for me it’s a lot nicer to just fly myself than deal with a commercial flight.”
Miles said he also enjoys sightseeing and will sometimes take family and friends on flights.
“When I lived back in New York I’d take my parents over the Adirondacks to see the fall foliage, or, you know, I’d just take friends flying. I just really enjoy it, and I enjoy sharing my passion and lighting that fire in others.”
That’s how Miles said he ended up getting involved with the Experimental Aircraft Association and its Young Eagles program, which aims to introduce kids ages 8 to 17 to the field of aviation and inspire them to get involved.
Founded on Jan. 26, 1953, in Milwaukee, Wis., as a local club for those who built and restored their own aircraft, the Experimental Aircraft Association quickly grew to become a nationwide aviation community that caters to those who enjoy flying for recreation and welcomes the participation of aviation enthusiasts. The national nonprofit’s mission is to increase participation in aviation by making it more accessible and easier to get involved. The Young Eagles project was started in 1992.
Miles said he got his pilot’s license about 20 years ago, and within two years of flying, he was volunteering to fly at Young Eagles rallies — first in New York and then in Cedar Rapids, where he has lived for about 15 years.
Since then, Miles has taken more than 500 children on their first flights, about 400 of whom were Iowa kids.
“Dave is very dedicated to the Young Eagles project and the EAA as a whole,” said Justin Cook, president of the Cedar Rapids EAA chapter. “The Young Eagles is an all-volunteer program — so all the flights these pilots give are on their own time and at their own expense. Each year, we have about five or six Young Eagles rallies and Dave has participated in almost every single one of them.”
Nationally, Cook said the Young Eagles program has introduced about 1.5 million children to flight since 1992.
The Cedar Rapids EAA chapter serves Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, Vinton, Tipton, Washington and Monticello and hosts about six Young Eagles Rallies per year, all of which draw a total of about 200 to 300 kids annually.
Additionally, Cook said the local chapter awards two scholarships each year to children who have flown as a young eagle so they can attend a four- to five-day summer camp called the EAA Academy, which serves as a “follow up” to the Young Eagles flights where kids can continue to develop their interest in flying.
The Young Eagles project’s sole purpose, Cook said, “is to introduce children to aviation — especially general aviation — who might not be able to experience flying on their own.”
“Our hope is that those flights will plant that seed or spread that fire we have for flying and encourage these kids to hopefully develop an interest in aviation and get involved with the EAA,” Cook said.
“There are so many areas in aviation that people can get involved in,” Cook said. “From piloting, to aerospace engineering to manufacturing to homebuilding your own plane, there are so many opportunities to build careers or just have some fun flying.”
Interestingly, Cook said the Young Eagles program is what sparked his interest in aviation.
“I am a third-generation aviator,” he said. “My dad and my granddad are both pilots, and my first flight was a Young Eagles flight.”
Cook said he was about 8 or 9 years old at the time and the flight took off from the “now-closed McBride Airport.” Now a father himself, Cook said his 4-year-old son has already caught “the aviation bug” and loves to fly with his dad and granddad.
For Miles, flying his four-seater single-engine Cessna is freedom. It’s something he said he’ll continue to do until he or the plane “can’t go anymore.” And, as long as he’s flying, he will continue sharing his love of flight with area kids.
“There’s just something special about flying and being able to share that passion with young kids, a lot of whom have never gone up in a plane,” he said. “Seeing the smiles on their faces afterward, hearing them tell their parents how much fun they had and seeing that spark of interest in their eyes, I just really enjoy it.”