Nearly 100 youngsters got to experience the thrill of flying – many for the first time – thanks to a program designed to inspire the next generation of aviators.
On Nov. 2, six pilots from Chapter 1114 of the Experimental Aircraft Association descended on the Johnston County Airport to provide free flights through the group’s Young Eagles program. Launched in 1992, Young Eagles gives children an opportunity to take flight in a general aviation airplane. EAA members volunteer their time, aircraft and fuel to promote the program.
Clayton residents Curt and SueAnn Hallinger brought their three children – Emma, 8, Anton, 7 and Ava, 4 – to the event. It was the first flight for their two youngest.
“We came out today to learn all about aircraft,” Curt Hallinger said. “We take weekend outings with the kids, and this is a great activity for us all.”
“I have been on a plane when I was a baby, but I don’t remember it,” said daughter Emma.
The Hallinger kids flew with Jim Dukeman, an EAA member and coordinator of the day’s rally. He ran the trio through a pre-flight check of the aircraft and briefly explained the controls and how to fly the plane. After climbing aboard and waving to their parents, the children taxied down the runway for a 15-minute flight.
“We try to stay within the traffic patterns,” Dukeman said. “Parents are more comfortable when they can see the plane and the kids can still see the airport.”
Brothers Zachary and Justin Pittman of Wilson’s Mills were also first-time flyers. Zachary, 11, showed no fear as he waited for his flight.
“This is going to be awesome,” he said.
Their mother, Crystal Pittman, said the program was a good introduction to flying for her children. “I like the way the pilots spend time with the kids beforehand,” she said. “They actually explain everything to them.”
Pilot Don Poitras has been taking part in Young Eagle flights for a decade. Poitras, who spent the morning flying children in his 1963 Beechcraft Musketeer, said the experience was a win-win for all involved.
“This is really an excuse for us to fly, and the kids really love it too,” he said.
After landing, children received a certificate and logbook signed by their pilot. Also, their names will go in the EAA-sponsored “World’s Largest Logbook,” which boasts more than 1 million names.
“I had fun,” said Ava Hallinger. “I looked down at the trees, and they were so small.”