Young Eagles soar in kids' aviation program

Ben Russell of Cortland checks out the sky before lifting off at the EAA Young Eagles event June 7, 2014.
Ben Russell of Cortland checks out the sky before lifting off at the EAA Young Eagles event June 7, 2014.

DeKALB - Anna Paul stood in the hangar, unsure if she wanted to try it.

"I didn't actually want to go because I'm afraid of planes," Anna, 11, of St. Charles, admitted.

Anna and her 9-year-old sister, Kaytlyn, were among the first of about 90 area youngsters to take a free flight June 7 at the DeKalb Taylor Municipal Airport. The flights, provided by volunteer pilots with Chapter 241 of the Experimental Aircraft Association, were part of the group's semi-annual Young Eagles Over DeKalb.

"A lot of kids have never had the opportunity to fly," Young Eagles Director Tim Hunter said. "We are trying to provide that opportunity."

According to its website, the EAA is a "community of pilots and aviation enthusiasts who promote and support recreational flying."

The children, all between the ages of 8 and 17, took 20-minute flights in four-seat, single-engine Pipers. The route went west to the Northern Illinois University Convocation Center, north to pass over Genoa, then east over the Vulcan Quarry. Kaytlyn Paul said from the air, the quarry pit is "a ginormous hole."

"Everything was so tiny," Mitchell Meyer, 12, of Sycamore, said.

Some young passengers claimed they could see their homes from the air. Mitchell said he couldn't, but he did spot Menards and Portillo's.

Pilot Jack Bennett said some children can't stop babbling in the air, while others are scared stiff.

"You get all kinds of reactions from the kids," he said.

Bennett, a retired NIU biology professor, organized the first local Young Eagles flight in 1992. The oldest of the volunteers at age 87, he still flies Young Eagles in his 1961 Piper Cherokee.

Dan Thurnau, a construction worker from DeKalb who has been participating in the program for 20 years, said he puts a heavy emphasis on showing children how safe flying is. Most of the kids he flies, he said, "are giddy."

"For them, it's like going on a ride at Great America," he said.

Shanna MacNeille, who calls herself an "airplane person," was taking her second Young Eagles flight. She said she likes to ride in a plane, but doesn't want to steer it. Every child on a Young Eagles flight is given a chance to handle the controls.

"This was better than last time because last time two kids were annoying," she said.

Hidden beneath the fun and excitement, the flights have a practical purpose. According to Bennett, at one time there were 900,000 commercial pilots; today, that number has dwindled to about 600,000. Many of those pilots, he said, were either World War II veterans or they learned from the G.I. Bill.

Thurnau said the Young Eagles encompasses all aspects of aviation, including airplane mechanics. He added that the group awards a scholarship every year, and that every recipient has gone on to get their pilot's license. In fact, one of his first Eagles is now flying an F-18.

After their ride, Hunter said each participant was officially registered as a Young Eagle with the EAA's national organization.

Back on the ground, Anna, who had been nervous about going up in the plane, said the ride was "really fun."

"If there's an opportunity, I'd like to try it," her mother, Rebecca Paul, said.

Tom Burgan, a commercial airline pilot with Delta who lives in Geneva, said the group will also offer free flights from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday, Aug. 16.

Hunter said a majority of the proceeds of their EAA fly-in/drive-in pancake breakfast on June 1 went to support their Dr. Wilbur O. Thompson Flight Training Scholarship they offer every year.

The Dr. Wilbur O. Thompson Flight Training Scholarship was awarded this year to two young ladies that applied and won the scholarship donation, as Dan Thurnau had indicated to you earlier today…  reference the attached flyer, which Dana should had a copy of also…

For more information about the Experimental Aircraft Association, go to www.eaa.org.

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