A Very Special Young Eagle

By Jeff Seaborn, EAA 793688, EAA Canadian Council Chair

Recently I was chatting with another pilot about the opportunities to fly Young Eagles. I know there are some members who have flown hundreds and even thousands of Young Eagles. Myself, I’ve only flown about 35. Of those 35, I know of at least three who have gone on to become commercial pilots.

Were they already intending to go in that direction
with their careers? Probably. But who knows, the Young Eagles flight may have cemented
their aviation goals into their reality. Of the remaining Young Eagles that
I’ve flown, maybe some of them have gone on to become pilots or work in the
aviation industry or get their private pilot’s license. I’ll likely never know.

Going back to the pilots who have flown hundreds or
more Young Eagles, your efforts and enthusiasm have touched many, many lives.
Again, who knows the positive effect that’s had on the aviation community and
in those kids’ lives. We applaud you.

One Young Eagles flight that I will remember for a
long time occurred just last year, and I think that I was the one who benefited
the most. Some Young Eagles flights are more energizing than others, but this
flight was actually quite challenging. The flight wasn’t during a Young Eagles
event. It was arranged privately, and the Young Eagle himself isn’t a stranger
to me. In fact, this Young Eagle is my nephew, Will. Will is a very gregarious,
inquisitive, and active 11-year-old boy. A couple of weeks before his flight,
Will was speaking with my wife and was inquiring about flying and my plane when
he said, “When is your husband going to take me for a flight?” Will is very
direct and to the point.

To be honest, I hadn’t really considered taking Will
for a flight. I didn’t think he’d be that interested. Three years previously,
Will lost his eyesight to a rare and currently incurable disease. It’s called
LHON, lebers hereditary optic neuropathy. It happened very suddenly. Prior to the
disease, Will had 20/20 vision. He had just turned 8 when his symptoms were
first noticeable. Within a month, he was legally blind.

Imagine being a normal kid in grade two and coming
back to school in the fall being blind. As an adult I can’t fathom it. For
Will’s classmates this was a shock. To the rest of us, this likely would have
been devastating and crippling. To Will, it was just one of those things.
Through CNIB Foundation, formerly the Canadian National Institute for the
Blind, and other programs, Will has had many opportunities to experience
different things. Will has been known to say, “I don’t know what the big deal
is, it’s not like I’m dying.” Again, he’s so direct and to the point. And he’s
so right. Will lives every day to the fullest just like the rest of us should
aspire to.

Just to give you an idea, Will bikes and skis and
plays hockey on a regular hockey team. Will has also learned magic, and with
his jovial attitude, his magic shows are a joyful combination of magic and

Back to the Young Eagles flight. Although Will can see
a very slight amount in his peripherals, I’m always unsure of what he can see.
On Young Eagles flights, so much of the experience is seeing the world from a
different perspective. As pilots we enjoy sharing that experience with the
Young Eagle. It’s a treat to fly them over an area that they recognize and
point it out from the air. “Look down there, isn’t that your school?” “Can you
see your house?” “Look at this, look at that.” I caught myself once or twice
just about to comment about the view.

When I let Will fly, he did his best. I suspect he was
able to detect the position of the sun and tried to keep it in the same
position during his time at the controls. Although it was a beautiful VFR day
for us, for Will it was like flying IFR without the instruments. To him, the
horizon was unobservable and the instruments were

Despite these challenges, Will’s attitude was
unsinkable. In fact, for as long as I’ve known him, that has been his attitude.
I was the one who was challenged by this flight. For Will, it was just another
day in the life of a happy-go-lucky boy.

If you have the time and opportunity to attend a Young
Eagles event, or simply think that neighbour kid would like a flight, reward
yourself and fly Young Eagles whenever you can. You never know how you might
change a young life. You may inspire the Young Eagle, but you’ll definitely
inspire yourself.

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