AirVenture – Int’l Home of the Young Eagles

By Robert Mark on July 23rd, 2021

AirVenture 2021 is really happening next week in Oshkosh beginning July 26 and the pent-up demand for aviation excitement/geeky experiences is expected to run high. Each year – except 2020 of course – the show attracts tens of thousands of parents and kids, many for their first aviation experience, some ready for a trip aloft. For new aviators, nothing quite matches that first flight … often in a general aviation machine.

Mine came by chance years ago in a Bell 47 helicopter when the EAA Airshow was still being held at what is now the Chicago-Rockford International Airport. I was maybe 10 at the time and my aunt and uncle were shepherding me around the show when we stumbled upon the helicopter sitting on the ground with a sign that said, “Helicopter Rides with Captain Rick.” Want to go, my aunt wondered? A fraction of a second later – or at least it seemed like it – I was in the right seat of the same helicopter I’d watched on the old Whirly Birds TV show that ran in the late 1950s. I have no idea how long that flight lasted but I cherished every moment.

Today offering young people their first ride is much easier and better organized than was my random experience thanks to the EAA’s Young Eagles Program headquartered at AirVenture’s Wittman Regional Airport. To date, they’ve already given more than 2.2 million kids their first aviation experience, often from small airports around the US.

Jetwhine contributor Micah Engber recently attended a Young Eagles rally in Maine and although they told him he didn’t meet the age requirements for a Young Eagles ride – under 18 only – I think you’ll enjoy his report of watching the fun (script below).

Rob Mark, publisher

A Young Eagles Rally – https://bit.ly/3y5zYjJ  

For years I’ve heard about EAA’s Young Eagles Program and always thought it was just the greatest thing since sliced bread. I mean the good sliced bread, not that soft white cake-like fluffy stuff. I mean a big seeded rye bread that you pick up at a bakery and have sliced for you fresh. The kind of sliced bread that just warms your heart when you bite into it.

That’s exactly what happened when I attended EAA Chapter 141’s Young Eagles Program at the Limington/Harmon Airport, that’s 63B, up in Limington, Maine. It was a perfect day, with perfect temperature and humidity, and a big sunny blue sky.

The event was slated to start at 08:00 and as usual, I arrived early, about 07:45. There were about half a dozen Chapter Members there already and three aircraft. One was a 1946 Taylorcraft BC12-D1, a gorgeous tail dragger, from the same year, a Piper Cub belonging to Bunk Chase, and the third was a sweet 1955 Aeronca Champion. A little later on a Cessna 172 rounded out the day’s Young Eagle squadron.

I’m sorry to say I missed one of my favorite parts of any event held at EAA Chapter 141’s home base in Limington. You see Bunk lives just across the field from the Chapter Hangar and has a hangar of his own where he keeps his lovely yellow Cub. But he NEVER taxis over to a Chapter Fly-In. He always taxis out of his hangar, takes off down the runway, does a quick run through the pattern, and lands, only then does he bring his Cub to a chapter fly‑in. Bunk likes to say, “They don’t call these things a taxi-in now do they?”

Over the course of the morning about a baker’s dozen of young folk came by, some for their first flights ever, some were old hands, a couple had flown commercial before, but all knew this was something special. They filled out their paperwork, were escorted out to an airplane, and given their pre-flight briefings. Some were shy, but all were excited.

I had the opportunity to speak with a couple of young folks both before their flight and after. Those that I talked to had flown with the airlines at some point in their young lives, but, none had ever been in a small general aviation aircraft before. You could see the excitement in their eyes, an excitement they all exuded. You could also see just a bit of trepidation before their flight, and amazing smiles after; it was like that with everyone.

And the pilots were great with the kids! Every Young Eagle got to handle the controls and fly if they wanted to; most did, though some didn’t. And all participants received a logbook with their first entry all filled out.

But you know what I found interesting, now remember as I say this, I’m an old guy, but all the kids that I talked to, at least the ones that flew in one of the aircraft other than the Cessna, said how much they liked the joystick control. No not center stick, control stick, or just simply the plain stick, joystick. I don’t know why, but the term joystick just kind of tickled me. I suppose it shows my age.

Around noontime, after the hamburgers and hotdogs were all consumed and all was cleaned up and put away a few of us remained. Chapter 141’s Young Eagles program had been a success. We were talking about the upcoming Spurwink Farm Pancake Breakfast and Fly-In less than a month away, the Chapter’s biggest fundraiser that allows for days like today and introducing young people to the joys of aviation. We talked about a new big event that may be coming up in August. Not much to say about that, but stand by for the details, it’s going to be spectacular.

And then, out of the blue, something took place that may have just been the best part of the day. As I said, about everyone had gone home, but one family was still there. I was sitting outside at a picnic table with a few Chapter members, you know the usual hangar talk when that last family comes over just before leaving to say thank you. One of their children, a shy little four-year-old girl, too young to fly in the Young Eagles program sort of hides by the side of the table when her mother says to her, “it’s OK, ask him”. And what does she ask, well, she says, “Could I please sit in that pretty yellow airplane?” I don’t know who was smiling wider, me, the little girl, or Bunk Chase, who with an ear to ear grin, proudly walked her over to that beautiful Piper Cub, and gave her the grand tour. What a perfect end to a great day.

For Jetwhine, here in Portland, Maine,

This is your Main(e) man,

Micah

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