Weather at the Paonia airport on Saturday morning, May 4, proved just about perfect for taking novice flyers up for their inaugural flights.
The Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) launched its initiative in 1992 to provide youth with a taste of aviation. The Young Eagle Flights program gives youths between the ages of 8-17 their first free rides in member airplanes to give them hands-on experience. Saturday's event started at 8 a.m. and the group anticipated about 40 flights before noon.
Before the flights the participants attended a short "ground school." Members of EAA Chapter 1373 out of Delta explained the fundamentals of flight, the instrument panels in the planes, the intended route and communication details, specifics necessary to ensure safety (and confidence) in flight. At one station, member Sheila Gray prepared students for their first experiences in a helicopter. At another station Bill Bruner explained the flight simulator to anyone interested in giving it a try. Local pilot Mike Wiley explained the mechanics of the experimental amateur-built planes that would fly other students.
Then it was time to experience the real thing.
Most of the flights lasted about 34 minutes and took the passengers from Paonia, over Redlands Mesa, "abeam" the North Fork and Gunnison rivers, over Hotchkiss and back to the Paonia airport. Once the students completed their flights they received certificates of completion and logbooks. The flights make them eligible to receive EAA membership benefits and they can add any future flight time to their logbooks.
When asked about their flights, the common response was "fun!" They were all smiles when they lined up to claim their certificates of accomplishment. One flyer admitted that he felt a little scared at first, but when he got out of the plane, he was beaming. His pilot, Ray Veatch, said that he helps his charges get over their fears by methodically explaining every move he makes while in the air. One young flyer was excited by seeing familiar landmarks, like the track at her school, from above. All of the young flyers seemed excited and positive about their time in the air.