On Saturday, April 15, the local chapter of the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) will kick off its first Young Eagles event of the year at the Moore County Airport, offering free airplane rides for all children from ages 8 to 17. With a dozen privately-owned airplanes providing rides to an expected 200 children, the fly-in promises to be an unforgettable experience.
Young Eagles event in 2018/Sandhills Sentinel.
This event is part of the Spring Open House weekend at the airport from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., which is open to the public.
The Young Eagles program is more than just free airplane rides for kids. It is also a way to inspire the next generation of pilots and aviation enthusiasts. By providing children with the opportunity to experience flight firsthand, the program hopes to spark an interest in aviation and encourage children to pursue careers in the industry. It also supports the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) programs in the surrounding county schools.
“I took my first airplane ride here at the Moore County Airport when I was 10 years old,” said Airport Director, Ron Maness. “That one ride set me on a fabulous aviation career. There may be another 10-year-old just waiting for this event that may have an experience just like me.”
The Moore County Airport Young Eagles event is the latest offering of a program that has been running twice each year since the early 2000s, with a pause for the COVID years. The local pilot group has flown more than 7,000 children, and each ride also generates “award points” for the EAA chapter. These points have been used over the years to provide scholarships for a dozen local aeronautically enthusiastic high school students to the giant AirVenture airshow in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, each July.
“Flying is always fun and always interesting, but the very best days I have ever had in the sky were the days I have been flying Young Eagles events,” said Jim Murray, Young Eagles coordinator for the local EAA Chapter.
In addition to the free airplane rides, the event will feature static displays of airplanes and aviation equipment, so children can see the planes up close and learn more about them. There will be demos of the Redbird simulator operated by the Sandhills Flyers Flying Club, which is the only three-axis general aviation simulator in North Carolina. There will be educational exhibits on aviation history, and the science of flight all of which are designed to give the children a well-rounded aviation experience and help them appreciate the role aviation plays in our daily lives.
The event is open to children ages 8 to 17. On-site registration is easy, and the EAA asks that parents or guardians accompany their children to the event and stay on-site during the flight. They also recommend that children dress appropriately for the weather and wear comfortable shoes. Depending on the weather, the number of children, and when they arrive, the wait times for each flight usually are under an hour.
“My favorite part of each ride is when we fly over a kid’s home or school because they get so excited,” said Mike Jones, a veteran of more than 700 Young Eagles rides and the current chairman of the Airport Authority. “The kids are amazed to see their homes, or even McDonald’s and Walmart. One young boy got off the plane and thanked me for the ride, saying it was the best day of his whole life.”
The EAA’s Young Eagles program was established in 1992 with the aim of introducing young people to the world of aviation. The program provides children with the opportunity to take a free airplane ride with a certified pilot, giving them a unique perspective of the world from the sky. The program has been incredibly successful, with over two million children having participated since its inception.
The program is designed to be a fun and educational experience for children. Before the flight, each child receives a briefing from their pilot, explaining the basic principles of flight and the controls of the airplane. The pilot answers any questions the children may have. Once the briefing is complete, the child will board the airplane and take to the skies. The normal route is north to Carthage, then southwesterly to Pinehurst and then east to Southern Pines. Most flights last 15-20 minutes at an altitude of 2,500 feet.
“The pilots donate their planes, their time and their skills to this event,” according to Jim Wiltjer, who has worked on more than two dozen fly-ins. “But we’re also very grateful to the airport for donating the fuel; it really helps make the program affordable for everybody.”
The EAA’s Young Eagles program has been instrumental in inspiring the next generation of pilots and aviation enthusiasts. By offering free airplane rides to children, the program has made aviation accessible to young people who may not otherwise have had the opportunity to experience flight. The program has also played a role in addressing the shortage of pilots in the aviation industry by encouraging young people to pursue careers in aviation.
Feature photo: Victoria Smith, a Young Eagles Flier, in 2018/Sandhills Sentinel.