By Lucas Vader
As long as there are pilots retiring, new ones had better be coming in.
Locally speaking, Delta’s Blake Field airport, Smiling Aviation, has a chapter of an overarching organization which aims to do just that by recruiting and teaching young aviation enthusiasts who are 8-17 years old. This is through a program known as “Young Eagles.”
“Founded more than 50 years ago, the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) is a growing and diverse organization of members with a wide range of aviation interests and backgrounds,” the local EAA chapter’s website says of the program. “EAA’s local chapters are about people, bringing together individuals interested in learning more about aviation as well as sharing their own knowledge.”
In all, EAA covers everything aircraft related, far beyond just the Young Eagles program. The local chapter, Chapter 1373, welcomes pilots, student pilots, flying enthusiasts and those interested in building or maintaining aircraft, an example of each of which can be found at Delta’s own local airport.
The Young Eagles program specifically focuses on giving youth ages 8–17 their first free ride in an airplane. In an introductory flight, the program aims to increase youth interest in aviation and to provide valuable education and incentive.
“We provide a first, free flight under the guidelines of EAA’s Young Eagles Flights,” said EAA Chapter 1373 Administrator Ginnette Waterman. “We want our Young Eagles to continue using the EAA resources to help them learn more about aviation.”
Waterman said the program has strong support at the local airport. Smiling Aviation owners Mark and Cheryl Husmann provide fuel at their cost, and Tom Jones of the Civil Air Patrol leads flight coordination. Civil Air Patrol also provides “excellent” ground crew and performs administrative duties in the Young Eagles Program.
“It was an honor to introduce these Delta County youth to aviation,” Waterman said. “And we are very appreciative of their parents who took their time to help their sons and daughters experience their first Young Eagles flight.”
Most recently, the local Young Eagles had an event Saturday morning, which ultimately had 14 flights, according to Waterman.
“We introduced 36 Young Eagles to the aircraft and had headsets for all to participate in the flight experience,” Waterman said. “Young Eagles were each given a Pilot Log Book to record this flight and all future flights. They also received a Young Eagles Certificate signed by the pilot with the date, airport, and aircraft flown.”
According to EAA Chapter 1373 Young Eagles Coordinator Ray Veatch, Saturday’s event was more informal than many, but it went well for what it was.
“Most of the pilots will let them fly the airplane,” Veatch said. “I’ve had kids that I’ve had up three or four times now and I’m not a flight instructor, so I’m not going to let them take off and land, but I’m going to do some of the basic maneuvers. These are America’s future pilots right here.”
Two of the youth present on Saturday, in fact, are committed to receiving their pilot’s licenses.
Veatch is one of the previously mentioned members of EAA who has built his own plane. It was delivered to his house in a number of cardboard boxes full of pieces. Over the course of a year and a half, he did a great deal of the assembly in his living room.
That plane was one of the two that were used for Saturday’s event. The other plane belonged to Alan Collins. There was also a helicopter.
The educational value of the event overall included pre-flight checks and explanations of different instruments on the plane, including instruments that measure speed by using pressure.
“We encouraged parents and Young Eagles to register for a free learn to fly class online at EAA.org,” Waterman said after the event. “We hope we have inspired many more to consider aviation as a career or educational opportunity.”