Giving back – a fun day at the airport

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Like many of you, my flying has been on a hiatus for the past few weeks. Due to the government-ordered shut down of many businesses, parks and all the restaurants, I am faced with the reality of nowhere to go and nothing to do once you get there.  Dr. Seuss did not foresee the current situation when he wrote “From soaring to high heights and seeing great sights” in his book Oh, the places You’ll Go.

So I took this chance to open my log book to review some places I went last year.  As I thumbed through the pages, I recollected flying to the tiny island nation of Nevis, the annual treks to Sun ‘n Fun in Lakeland, FL, and AirVenture in Oshkosh, WI. A trip to Sikeston, Mo to eat at Lambert’s Café (The Only Home of Throwed Rolls), plus more local breakfast flights to the Urbana, Ohio (I74) Airport Café or the Portsmouth (KPMH) Skyline Family Restaurant. Then I saw this entry.

9/28 – PA27 – N702SP – KFGX/KFGX – 2.7hrs – 6 landings – EAA Chapter 1626 Young Eagles

Last year several pilots based at Fleming Mason Airport (KFGX) formed a new EAA chapter.  I was eager to join, not because I wanted to build and airplane, but to take advantage of the Young Eagles Program. The EAA founded Young Eagles in 1992 to give young people ages 8 to 17 a free ride in a general aviation airplane to further stimulate their interest in aviation. As of March 9, there have been 2,202,308 Young Eagles flown in the program’s 28-year history. Since joining, I was eagerly awaiting the first Young Eagles Day event at Fleming Mason.

Qualifying to fly Young Eagles is a relatively simple task, but does require some preparation. First, you have to be an EAA member and be current in the airplane with a valid airman’s certificate that qualifies for carrying passengers (Sport pilot or higher). You must possess a current medical or basic med, complete the online EAA Youth Protection Program and submit to a background check. There are a few additional requirements like airworthiness, insurance etc. available on the EAA volunteer pilot website.

The weather that Saturday was warm with only a few clouds in the fall sky. The Young Eagles rally was being held in conjunction with the airport fly-in which required some additional elements in the safety briefing. We discussed the higher volume of transient airplanes in addition to parking, loading /unloading the kids and the  routes to be flown for myself and the other two pilots participating.

The first participant, Kendra, came with her mother. After the required permission forms were signed, I performed a preflight inspection with Kendra and her mom. I took the opportunity  to explain the various items we inspect and why that was important to the flight. After Mom, Kendra and I were satisfied (especially Mom) the airplane was airworthy and the pilot knew what he was doing, Mom walked over to the viewing area and Kendra and I got in the airplane. This established the normal pattern for the rest of the day.

Throughout the day, after the seat belts and door were secured, I would hand the checklist to the right seat Young Eagle and declare them the co-pilot. I encouraged them to read the checklist and make sure I gave the proper response as we completed the startup, pre-takeoff, climb and cruise checklists. While in cruise, I told my young co-pilots that it was their duty to give the pilot a rest and they should take the controls. As I coached them through some shallow banks, gentle climbs and descents, I noticed how a little grin would turn into a big smile as they realized how the airplane was now responding to their (not my) commands as we headed back to the airport.

After a positive exchange of controls and completion of the pre-landing checklist, I explained the traffic pattern as we maneuvered to landing, roll-out, and taxi to the parking spot. As we accomplished the shut-down checklist, I let them pull the mixtures to idle/cutoff. Once the door was opened and the belts were off, it seemed like every Young Eagle would go to his or her parent with the exclamation “Mom (Dad) he let me fly the airplane!”

I started a tradition (for me) of having each Young Eagle sign my log book. Now, as I look back on that experience, I have those signatures to commemorate the day I spent “giving back” to general aviation.  I don’t know if any of these young folks will ever become pilots, but I do know they each had the experience of looking at the ground from the sky, which forever changes how the sky looks from the ground.