Chapter 323 Flying Start Program Takes Off

By Ed Griggs

EAA Chapter 323 ran into a common situation during Young Eagles events — parents clearly disappointed that the kids were the ones having all the fun.

“Our chapter has always had great success with our
Young Eagles program, but without fail, we will have parents who ask a lot of questions
about flying — how to go about taking lessons, how long does it take, what are
the costs, and all of the usual questions — and we respond with, ‘Wouldn’t you
like to fly,’” Chapter 323 President Mike McLendon said. “It’s right then and
there that you see the ‘I wish I could’ look.”

Two events influenced 323’s decision to host a Flying Start event. EAA’s Flying Start webinar, (September 2018), was attended by several of our members. This is when the chapter first gave thought to Eagle Flights. Then Mike’s attendance at the Chapter Leadership Academy, held in Oshkosh this past January, stimulated many ideas and ways to improve the chapter. Mike gave one idea a priority: Eagle Flights, and the Flying Start program.

We knew our chapter had the resources and know-how to
do this successfully. A call went out via newsletter and at a chapter meeting
for any willing and able pilot to volunteer as the Eagle Flights coordinator.
Adam Yavner answered that call. Adam quickly addressed three areas of concern.

“Firstly, to reach that segment of our local populace
who are either curious or passionate about aviation, yet who may not even have
realized there is a municipal airport in their own backyard,” Adam said. “Secondly,
to put them in touch with pilot mentors in our community who want to see them
succeed in their aviation goals and ultimately have them be a part of our
community. And finally, to foster goodwill with residents of the local area by
demystifying the airport environment and making it a place of gathering and

Plans began to form a Flying Start group, and it was
decided that International Learn to Fly Day would be our goal. So on May 18,
Chapter 323 started its EAA Flying Start program under the guidance of Adam
Yavner, along with mentor pilots Frank Connery, Rick Simmons, and Mike

At that first meeting, four eager attendees including Wayne
Wallace, Brian Baca, Tracy Rains, and me showed up to the inaugural
presentation that provided plenty of flight training information. Due to the
weather, we were unable to fly but rescheduled to the next weekend where EAA
Chapter 323 was hosting and invited the group to a “Charts and Legends” event
on Memorial Day weekend.

“We reached a good core group of people of all ages
and walks of life from the area who can not only pursue their own goals, but
can be a source of support to each other as they do so,” Adam said. “Too often,
if someone new visits a chapter, it can be a little overwhelming for them. By
creating a group of Eagles, they have a built-in peer group at the chapter
meetings and events which will only boost their sense of belonging until
everyone is integrated with the broader group. It will also serve to broaden
the diversity of our membership.”

The core group of Eagles has since gained four new
members with the addition of Rheuben Gammel, Katherine Hill, Rebecca Yavner,
and Gill Baca.

For my part, I am one of those “guys” (the 80 percenters)
who started their training years ago and never completed it. I think it is both
fitting and ironic that almost 31 years to the date of my first flight (April 26,
1988) that Adam would be signing my logbook. I’ve never felt the encouragement
and friendship that I have felt with Chapter 323, and it gives me hope that I
will be able to fulfill my goal and dream of becoming a pilot at last! “What makes Flying
Start unique is the small group concept,” Mike said. “Start small and grow. We
decided that with our resources and our new Eagle coordinator, we could begin
the program with a group of four. And so that’s what we did; however, four grew
to eight with our first flight. We have a solid group of Eagles taking the
steps to be aviators, and hopefully EAA members. We now have a chapter with
another service focus, another opportunity to introduce the joy of flight. Now
that’s a good Flying Start!”

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