Tuesday, Aug. 26


Young Eagles magic     Send a link to a friend

[AUG. 26, 2003]  On Aug. 23 the Heritage-in-Flight Museum and Experimental Aircraft Association Chapter 129 from Bloomington brought the magic of the Young Eagles program to the Logan County Airport. The goal of the Experimental Aircraft Association Young Eagles program is to give 1 million children between the ages of 8 and 18 a free introductory airplane ride before Dec. 17, the 100th anniversary of the Wright brothers' first powered flight at Kitty Hawk.

Parents and their children began arriving at 9:30 a.m. for the 10 a.m. official start of the event. The pilots and planes were ready and lined up on the ramp. Seven pilots volunteered to fly the kids in their private aircraft. A steady stream of families came to the airport until the closing time of 3 p.m. After the last kid left with a Young Eagles certificate, the count stood at 111 new flying enthusiasts.

The beaming children and their happy parents were the reward for the pilot volunteers and the ground support people. On the ground, members of HIF and Chapter 129 greeted the families and signed them in for their flights. They helped round up the future aviators, briefed them about their flight, secured them into the planes before the ride and helped them out of the airplanes after landing. Participants received a beautiful EAA Young Eagles certificate with their name printed on it.

Smiles were the currency of the day. Parents took photos of their children and their pilot with the airplane after each flight. The parents probably wished that they could have gone along, but it was a day for the youngsters.

One special incident put the whole day in perspective. A little girl was just not sure she wanted to go with her brother and sister in that airplane. She was clinging to her mother's leg and sniffling a bit. Pilot Lowell Hoffman leaned over and said "You know, I'm a granddad. Would you like to go for a ride with a granddad? I'll hold your hand out to the plane." Well, that seemed to reassure her a bit, and off they went! When the plane landed, she jumped out with the biggest smile on her face and raced to tell her parents how much fun it was! When she left the airport she was clutching her Young Eagles certificate to her as if it was her most prized possession.


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There were too many volunteers to mention, but one who stands out is Al LaRochelle, the godfather of central Illinois Young Eagles. He has been doing this since the program's inception. From the first flight of the day to his last, he would greet each group of young flyers with a booming, "Who wants to go for and airplane ride?" And the kids would all yell back, "We do!" After the flight he said "Congratulations, you're all Young Eagles now!" That always produced grins from his passengers!

LaRochelle's energy and enthusiasm set the tone for the day! Special thanks goes to Bob Tarbox and Lisa Visel for manning the computer. Jan Betzelberger, Mary Ellen Martin and Joanne Marlin checked the kids in with their parents. Jan's husband, Ron, and Mary Ellen's husband, Richard, were two of the pilots for the day. HIF president Tom Wachtel also flew the youngsters. Art Williams and Jack Burke served double duty by helping load the aircraft and also cooking lunch for all of the volunteers from Chapter 129 and HIF.

While the young aviators were taking off on their adventure, HIF members Milt Underkoffler and Ryan Wells led tours of the HIF museum and the static aircraft display area for the parents.

The goal of the Experimental Aircraft Association is to give 1 million children their first airplane ride before Dec. 17. The count is over 965,000. The goal of the EAA Chapter 129 is to give 300 kids their first airplane ride in 2003. The goal of Heritage-in-Flight is to bring the EAA's exuberance for aviation to the Logan County Airport. Saturday, Aug. 23, went a long way toward achieving all of these goals!

[Curt Fox]

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