DeKALB – Pilot Wes Lundsberg of Sycamore says flying is in his blood – something he’s wanted to do for as long as he can remember.
He has flown more than 100 free introductory flights – called missions – with more than 300 children through the U.S. Experimental Aircraft Association’s Young Eagles program.
Lundsberg said he likes sharing the pleasure of flying and takes a selfie with the children of every mission he completes.
“I enjoy flying and really like sharing the experience with kids,” Lundsberg said. “It’s fun to see their reactions, most are positive and excited, as evidence by the big smiles on their faces.”
Lundsberg learned to fly at the University of Illinois, was a fighter pilot in the U.S. Air Force for nine years and flew for United Airlines for 29 years. He is now a part-time instructor for Fly America.
EAA Chapter 241, based out of DeKalb Taylor Municipal Airport, gave about 60 homeschooled children flights on May 11.
The chapter will offer Young Eagle flights on a first-come, first-served basis from 9 to 11 a.m. June 1 at the DeKalb airport. Another EAA Young Eagle’s event will be from 9 to 11 a.m. Aug. 18. Both events are weather dependent.
Since it began in 1992, EAA’s Young Eagles program has given introductory flights to more than 2 million children between the ages of 8 and 17. The flights are free to children, with costs, including airplane fuel, covered by the more than 40,000 pilots who volunteer in the program.
“Our goal is to spark an interest in aviation and for the kids to learn something new,” said Steve Klopfenstein, Young Eagles coordinator for EAA Chapter 241. “Maybe they’ll be interested in learning more, take flying lessons or turn aviation into a fun pastime or career.”
Eight-year-old Jayden Geu of Gilberts had never flown in a plane before the EAA Young Eagles event and flying with pilot George Wilts of Streator. Geu said he was a little nervous, but was excited to be flying with his brothers, Elijah, 11, and Jackson, 13.
“I was a little nervous because I’ve never been in an airplane before,” Jayden Geu said. “It was fun to look down at the houses and be up so high.”
Zachary Parsons, 17, of Batavia went on a flight because he was interested in the science behind aviation.
“I’m interested in the field, I’ll possibly go into aviation one day,” Parsons said. “I’m mostly interested in the science behind it.”
Silva Eggers of Elgin, who brought her three children and two family friends’ children to the event, said the free flights are “educational and fun.”
“It opens [kids’] eyes to the opportunities offered in aviation,” Eggers said. “Sometimes, kids aren’t aware of what they’re capable of. They can overcome their fears and anxiety and have an amazing adventure.”
Pilot Dan Thurnau of Kingston said his favorite part of participating in the program is seeing children’s reactions, as he takes many on their first-ever flight. Thurnau has taken children on about 280 missions.
“I enjoy aviation and I want to pass it on to the next generation,” Thurnau said. “The aviation industry is booming, and there is a need for pilots, mechanics, air traffic controllers, re-fuelers and baggage handlers. Really, the sky’s the limit when it comes to aviation.”