My son is a huge aviation enthusiast. His current preferred future occupation is an “aircraft designer” or “aircraft design engineer”. He favorite reads are books about planes. He can identify the model of a flying airplane in a blink. His favorite computer game is X-plane. And his pick for the famous person for his Wax Museum project was Wilbur Wright. So I jumped all over the opportunity when I saw an event about “free flights for kids” on a local website. It is a program called EAA Young Eagles.
Most EAA chapters offer Young Eagles flights to children between the ages of 8 and 17. It is a great opportunity for kids to experience flying in a general aviation airplane and learn about aviation and airplanes. The program is run by volunteer pilots donating their time and the full cost of a flight using their own or rental aircraft. They also log hours to keep their licenses.
Usually, YE dates are announced on your local EAA Chapter’s website. Our first time was in June 2014. The events are weather dependent. In Chicago-land area, they have these rallies from May through October. In the South, they might be offering them year-round. Even if a rally is scheduled, if the weather is foggy, overcast or rainy, flights might be canceled.
You don’t reserve a spot for your flight. Registration is on a first come first serve basis. When you arrive, you register and are put on the list. Then you wait in the area to be dispatched. I highly recommend folding chairs and entertainment for kids for waiting.
When your child’s turn comes, they are partnered with the first available pilot. Pilots fill out and sign the registration form. If you have multiple children, they can fly together. Sometimes, if there is a long wait line, children of different families might be put on the same flight on a bigger airplane with more seats.
Our first pilot was a young gentleman. He took my son and showed around the plane. As you can see the plane has no doors. We had seen this plane while waiting and were worried that my son would have to fly on it. I was more anxious than my son here.
The pilot put a booster cushion under him. They are buckled up, headset on and ready to fly while I am questioning my parenting decisions.
And take off… The flight usually takes about 15 minutes which felt like few hours to me that day. I was worried that my son would get scared and totally ruin his experience and his enthusiasm about flying and airplanes. Luckily, he had a wonderful flight. He told us no doors was like a natural A/C as some of these small aircraft didn’t have any A/C. He wasn’t scared at all. He told us the places he had spotted from that open door. He was able to talk to the pilot and ask questions through their headsets during the flight.
At the end of the flight, he was given a certificate and a log book.
We went for a second rally last September. This time, my daughter was able to fly as well. We went later during the day instead of early morning and we didn’t have to wait that long for our turn to come. My son played with his foam glider while waiting. The glider ended up on the tarmac underneath a plane few seconds after I took this picture.
They flew on a bigger plane this time. The flight was 15 minutes again. This flight was added to my son’s existing log book which we brought along and my daughter was given a new certificate and a log book.
According to a study published in March 2011 by EAA, program participants are 5.4 times more likely to become a pilot than those who never participated and that 9% of those new pilots are female, an increase of 50% compared to the general population of pilots, which is 6% female. The study also indicated that the older a child is when taking their flight that it is the more likely that child will become a pilot, with two out of every 100 participants who are 17 years old continuing to complete a pilot certificate. (Source: http://www.avweb.com/avwebflash/news/YoungEaglesWorksSaysEAA_204226-1.html)
I don’t think my son will be a pilot, but this program definitely helps him with his experience and understanding of airplanes and aviation which are very valuable for his aspiration to become an aircraft design engineer.
If your children are enthusiastic about airplanes, aviation, look up your local EAA Chapter offering Young Eagles flights.
If you are already taking advantage of EAA Young Eagles Program, let me know how you like it in the comments.