By Michael Stromberg, EAA 584642
On June 28, 2010, I gave a Young Eagles ride. I probably gave more than one Young Eagles ride that day, but it was eight years ago and I don’t remember the specifics. It was just one of many days that I have given Young Eagles rides. To date, I have given more than 500 Young Eagles flights. A lot of them blur together, but I’m glad this one ride is coming back into focus because it changed someone’s life.
Everyone walks away from
a Young Eagles flight with something. For some, it was a fun opportunity to go
flying and see the world from the sky. For others, a Young Eagles flight opened
a door to a world of possibilities where they too can fly.
As the pilot, I also get
the satisfaction of seeing a kid light up after having flown an airplane. The
joy that most kids express after a flight is infectious. As Young Eagles
pilots, we love sharing the joy of flight. When it’s reflected back, we can’t
wait to take another child into the air, knowing we may be making a difference
in their lives. Normally, all I get to see is the excitement of that one day in
a kid’s life. One kid at a time.
Not too long ago, I was home in Oshkosh from work, catching up on the chores that inevitably pile up when one is a working pilot. I was up to my elbows in washing dishes when I got an email. I could read enough on my smartwatch to see it was from EAA and about a Young Eagles flight. Because this was much more interesting than washing dishes, I decided to go read it. Liz Birch, EAA 1078874, a former Young Eagle that I had flown, was in Oshkosh competing in the U.S. National Aerobatic Championships. She had contacted EAA to find out who had flown her on a Young Eagles flight in 2010.
To me, this was the
fulfillment of everything the Young Eagles program is supposed to be. I give
Young Eagles rides to try to inspire kids in aviation. And, for the first time,
I have received walking, flying proof that the program works.
I went to meet Liz again
eight years later and watched her compete at the U.S. National Aerobatic
Championships. While there, I also met her mom and dad again. Her dad’s
response after I met him was, “So you’re
the one who cost me so much money in flight training!” This comment was mostly
tongue in cheek.
In spending some time with them I learned the backstory to Liz’s Young Eagles flight. Liz and her family live in Illinois. They drove to Appleton because Liz’s older brother was in a baseball tournament. On the way home, they had some extra time, so they stopped at the EAA Aviation Museum in Oshkosh. Eventually, they walked outside to Pioneer Airport.
For anyone not familiar with the EAA museum, Pioneer Airport is an extension of it with hangars and a grass runway where EAA sells rides in biplanes and gives Young Eagles flights. When arriving in the office at Pioneer Airport, they were asked if the kids wanted to go for an airplane ride. The question in response is one we often hear, “How much is that?” And the answer that still surprises everyone, “It’s free.”
So on that June day in
2010, I took Liz for an airplane ride. Again, I don’t remember, but Liz did. Liz’s
mom recalls that she told Liz not to touch anything in the plane. It is
something that parents often say because there are so many things in life that kids
aren’t allowed to touch. But the Young Eagles program is designed to be hands-on
whenever possible. It’s a program designed to get kids involved and allow them
to participate. And for that flight, it worked. At 12 years old, she was
hooked. She knew that she wanted to fly, and she would devote herself to
becoming a pilot. And she did it.
Liz is now competing in aerobatic
competitions flying a Decathlon. She is also a CFII, teaching at UND, and
working to build her time so that she can get a job at an airline. I have no
doubt in my mind that she will be working for an airline in less than a year
when she logs her required time. In addition, Liz is now flying Young Eagles
and is the Young Eagles coordinator for the University of North Dakota chapter
Liz is why I fly Young
Eagles. The joy she felt that day cast a long reflection. Eight years, in fact.
It is experiences like Liz’s that show why we love aviation so much. Whether we
fly for fun, or work, or both we need to spread that joy. There is a pilot
shortage out there, and it’s not just working pilots; it’s pilots and enthusiasts
in every area of aviation.
This year volunteers will
fly approximately 60,000 Young Eagles flights. Every young person who gets a
Young Eagles ride can sign up for Sporty’s Online Learn to Fly Course. This
year approximately 8,000 kids will do just that. In short, the Young Eagles
program is working.
Most of us will never
hear back from the Young Eagles we fly. Just like most grade school teachers
don’t hear back from a lot of their students. But that doesn’t mean that you
aren’t making a huge difference in the lives of kids. You are. So keep giving
Young Eagles rides. And keep inspiring kids to fly.