I have always marveled at the power of flight to transport us from one place to another. Saturday morning, I stood on the tarmac at Wittman Field and understood its power to transform us as well.
I brought two young men with me to participate in the Experimental Aircraft Association’s Young Eagle program, which offers free flights to young people aged eight to 17. One of my young charges had never flown in a plane before and the other had flown just once.
Though they were equally excited to participate, the older one played it cool and offered a running litany of reasons he might need to decline.
“My ears might pop,” he said. “I’m pretty tired.” “I think it will be boring.”
I told him he definitely didn’t need to get on the airplane, it could be a game day decision, but he needed to stick around and watch his friend participate.
We stood and watched other kids returning from their flights as we waited for our turn. Again, the older one offered a steady commentary.
“I’d do it if it was THAT plane.” “I guess I’ll go if HE’S my pilot.”
The younger one kept his thoughts to himself. Privately, he had told me he was a little afraid to do it and I assured him he didn’t have to go up. But, I said, it’s kind of cool to do things when you’re just a little bit afraid. You feel very proud of yourself afterward. I also told him the world looks really interesting when you look down on it from the sky.
Still, I wasn’t sure at all whether either of them would want to go up when the time came. To my surprise, when their pilots strolled over to get them, both boys eagerly jumped aboard.
I welled up a little as I watched them take off. It’s one thing to tell young people, especially those that have faced tremendous obstacles in their lives, that the sky is the limit for them. It’s quite another to show them.
I can’t thank the EAA, its volunteer pilots and coordinators enough for offering these boys an opportunity to fly. It’s an experience I know they’ll never forget. (It’s also one they’ve already asked me if they can repeat.)
On the drive home, Mr. Chatterbox, whose pilot actually let him operate the in-flight controls for a time, found a new theme.
“I flew an airplane!” he said. “Never in my life did I ever think I would fly an airplane! I’m gonna be a pilot.”
For more information about the EAA Young Eagles Program, which is FREE and open to anyone aged 8 to 17, you can click here.