The Beatrice Municipal Airport was filled with nervous excitement on Saturday morning as kids and their families gathered outside the gates to watch some young passengers take flight.
The Young Eagles Rally is one of several programs organized by the Experimental Aircraft Association Chapter 569 based in Lincoln. The Young Eagles program launched in 1992, and EAA has since given more than 2 million kids ages 8-17 their first free ride in an airplane.
That number can now be increased by 38 kids after Saturday’s event, with five volunteers piloting two to four-seated planes. Those volunteers were Jeff Engles Corina Lottman, Jerry Mulliken, Keal Bockelman and Jerry Ebke.
Lottman said that she loves flying, and since she has her own airplane, it’s easy for her to help volunteer at events like this.
“Besides the fact that I love flying, I love trying to get other people into aviation,” Lottman said. “I love spreading aviation to others, and hoping that they do decide to take lessons or be in the aviation community in some way. There’s not very many of us, and there’s definitely not very many females, so if I can help out in any way to help promote aviation, I’m all for it.”
Higgins answered attendees’ questions while they were on the ground, and the pilots answered the various questions while the kids were in flight.
Lottman said those questions can range from ‘what happens if the engine dies?’ to a tangent about how to make scrambled eggs.
“I ask them before we go if they live in Beatrice and kind of where,” Lottman said. “‘Do you live by McDonalds’ or whatnot, and then we try and go. We kind of stay on a normal path when we go, so that all of the pilots are going the same way and we’re not a hazard to each other. We try and point out where McDonalds might be, if that’s what they said, so they can kind of look for their house and that sort of stuff. Or they’ll ask ‘what does this instrument do?’ and that sort of stuff.”
Two of the passengers, siblings Axel and Liza Anderson, age 11 and 8, respectively, said they have ridden on large commercial airplanes several times, but that this was their first time riding a smaller aircraft.
Liza said her favorite part of the experience was taking off.
“I liked going fast,” she explained.
Axel said he was nervous when the plane was turning.
“It was fun, though,” he said. “[There was] lots of weird stuff. There was a random school bus in a junkyard-type place. Like in a backyard, but with other, random cars.”
Axel said the experience was way better than flying in a commercial plane, and that he would do it again.
“I can instantly tell the difference between the kids that are waiting to fly and the kids that have already flown,” Higgins said. “You just look at their face. They’re a little nervous, usually, which is understandable for a first airplane ride. I mean, you are leaving the surface of the earth. But then when they come back and the mission is completed and they were up there and made it back, they’ve got a story to tell. They’re smiling, and you usually just can’t stop them. I wonder sometimes how long it takes mom and dad to calm them down after we gave them an airplane ride. It’s worse than grandma with sugar.”
Lottman said when she was in flight school, a lot of her peers accredited a Young Eagles flight as what initially got them interested in aviation.
“And that’s all that we can hope for, is that hopefully they’ll want to join aviation in some way later on down the line, or get their own license or different things there,” Lottman said. “It’s an absolutely great exposure for the first time. A lot of these kids don’t have anybody in their family that flies, so it’s totally a new experience for them.”