By DON HALEY
Special to the Valley Press
LANCASTER - Free airplane rides March 22 for kids 8 to 17 years old. Goal: Rebuild the general aviation industry. Call George Heddy, Experimental Aircraft Association, for details, (805) 948-4431.
This is how an ad might read if the two Antelope Valley chapters of the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) used Valley Press classifieds to promote the next Young Eagles rally March 22 at Fox Airfield, where scores of young people will experience their first airplane rides - and, as other ads often say, at no cost or obligation.
The Young Eagles program is a far-reaching, long-term commitment by the worldwide Experimental Aircraft Association to inspire today's youth to become involved in aviation and help stimulate renewed growth in general aviation business. Conducting the Young Eagles program jointly in the Antelope Valley are the nearly 200 members of the two local chapters, No. 49 of Lancaster and No. 1000 at Edwards Air Force Base.
"Unless we can do something to increase public support of general aviation, it doesn't look good," said George Heddy, a Chapter 49 member and co-coordinator of this year's local Young Eagles effort.
"Private pilots and general aviation airports are vanishing animals," Heddy said. "If we can show young people that general aviation is valuable for our nation's economy . . . and can be a positive influence on their lives . . . then the Young Eagles program will be successful. The seeds we plant now may be the ones that will keep general aviation alive."
The goal of EAA's Young Eagles program is to give at least 1 million young people free introductory airplane rides by Dec. 17, 2003 - the 100th anniversary of the Wright Brothers' flight at Kitty Hawk, N.C. The program began in 1992. As of last month, 250,000 "first flight" rides had been logged in the U.S. and 50 other countries, and 1,479 of those new Young Eagles were from the Antelope Valley.
Fox Airfield is the site of the next two Young Eagles flight rallies, March 22 and April 19. A third rally this spring is set for May 17 at Rosamond Skypark.
Parents of youngsters wishing to fly in the Young Eagles program must register with Heddy in advance by calling (805) 948-4431. Participants also must check in at the rally site by 10 a.m. on each flight date.
After their flight, each participant takes home a Young Eagles certificate bearing the signature of Chuck Yeager, the first man to fly an airplane faster than the speed of sound.
"They also get their name added to the National Young Eagles Internet Logbook," said Dave McAllister, also a Chapter 49 member who teams with Heddy as a Young Eagles co-coordinator. "And the home page says who their pilot was and the type of aircraft they flew in.
"We try to make each flight a very positive experience," McAllister said. "Hopefully, as these young people mature, they will remember their flight and be understanding about what general aviation is and work with the industry for everybody's benefit. There are many jobs associated with general aviation, but in many places the industry has been hurt by development and environmental concerns. We're good neighbors, but we need everybody's support."
Brian Duke, one of the many local EAA pilots volunteering time - and airplanes - to the program, says the goal with each youngster is to show that flying is fun and rewarding.
"Flying is not something many kids get to do every day, so I want them to walk away with a smile and be stimulated," said Duke, a Chapter 49 member who flies Young Eagles in his Vari-Eze, designed by Burt Rutan, renowned aircraft designer from Mojave. "I want to make them happy, because it may get them really interested in aviation."
The president of the Edwards EAA chapter, Mike Pelletier, says there's a joy in seeing a student who may be uninspired in school turning his or her life around and aiming for a career in aviation as a pilot, an engineer or in one of many other industry positions.
"If they enjoy flying, maybe we can give a student something to shoot for," said Pelletier, an Air Force major assigned to Edwards AFB. "Every one of our members gets satisfaction out of this program - giving something to our youth."
Gretchen Lund, also a Chapter 1000 member, has flown about 60 Young Eagles in her Mooney fourseat aircraft since the program began five years ago. She says it's comforting to know that Young Eagle rides can influence young people for the rest of their lives.
"One youngster I flew is going to the Air Force Academy," Lund boasted. "The Young Eagles program can't help but stimulate some interest, and I'm certain that it's a very positive influence on most of the kids."
The cost of the Young Eagles flights is absorbed by all members and aircraft owners in the two local EAA chapters, while a substantial portion of the fuel is donated by Comarco Inc., the company that manages Fox Airfield for Los Angeles County. The manager of the Comarco operation in Lancaster, Jake Godown, is also a Chapter 49 member.
The president of Chapter 49, Ozzie Levi, says the Young Eagles program also goes "on the road" to offer free indoctrination flights to young people in the communities of Inyokern, Kernville and Lone Pine - often with the help of area members of the Ninety-Nines, an international women's aviation organization.
"It fills the natural urge of those who fly to get young people everywhere interested in aviation," Levi said. "Really, the whole aviation community is represented in what we do, and we love it. It's not a one-way street. We get a lot of satisfaction from the way most kids take to flying."
Levi says the local program planners never set themselves a goal or limit to a specific number of flights, but he stresses the need to register each potential Young Eagle in advance by telephone.
"We've never had to quit flying before we ran out of kids," said Levi. "We just want to make sure we have enough pilots and planes on hand to balance out the day."
Air Force test pilot Norm Howell, a member of the Edwards EAA chapter, sums up the infectious enthusiasm he and his peers enjoy with each Young Eagle flight.
"It's a thrill to see the looks on their faces when they control the airplane themselves - even for just a few moments," said Howell, who flies a Long-Eze, also designed by Rutan. "Many are not old enough to drive a car . . . and here they are being told they can fly an airplane. That's a real positive experience . . . and a positive influence in their lives."
The Young Eagles flight rally at Fox Airfield will be held April 19 in conjunction with the airport association's annual pancake breakfast. The flight rally May 17 at Rosamond Skypark is on the same day as the annual Chapters 49/1000 Pancake Breakfast and Barbecue lunch. Events at both airports are open to the public.
Contents of The Leading Edge and these web pages are the viewpoints of the authors. No claim is made and no liability is assumed, expressed or implied as to the technical accuracy or safety of the material presented. The viewpoints expressed are not necessarily those of Chapter 1000 or the Experimental Aircraft Association.
Revised -- 18 May 1997