Flying EAA Young Eagles is Hard Work for All Involved

8:38 PM

By Dan Pimentel,
Airplanista Blog Editor
Just about anyone who reads this blog knows about EAA’s highly-successful Young Eagles program, a well-organized and mature initiative that has now given free airplane rides to over two million kids ages 8-17 since being founded in 1992. Every one of those airplane rides was flown by a volunteer EAA pilot burning his or her own gas, supported on the ground by a team of other volunteers who keep the planes full of kids, many taking their very first ride in a general aviation airplane.
Today, I traveled south from my Eugene, Oregon home to help EAA chapter 31 in Creswell, Oregon host their annual July 4th Young Eagles event. Before I dove in and helped though, I got to enjoy some very cool aviating in a 1946 Cessna 120:
Each year on Independence Day, local pilots in the Southern Willamette Valley get together and organize a flyover of the very popular Creswell July 4th Parade. It is partly to celebrate the holiday, but also a way to promote the day’s Young Eagles flights being flown from Hobby Field Airport (77S). I lucked into a flight in a fellow EAA chapter 1457’s vintage Cessna, and we were #9 of nine airplanes in the flyover. After a pair of RVs led the flyover with smoke on, a couple more RVs followed, plus a Decathlon, a Piper Cherokee 180G, a Skyhawk, a Piper Cub and the 120. We did a pair of passes straight up Main Street USA at about 1,200MSL, and it was a very fun way to celebrate the 4th while also celebrating general aviation.
Back at the airport, kids had already started signing up at 730AM, and more signed up before departing for the parade. But when the parade let out, the flood of interested kids and their parents descended on the chapter 31 clubhouse, and pandemonium ensued:
There must have been about 12 EAA volunteers supporting most of the flyover planes as they started giving a bunch of interested Young Eagles their rides. Some people frantically entered names and data into the club’s PC and spit out Young Eagles certificates, another processed the completed applications and attempted to keep them in order. My job was “runner” which is a classy way to say “wrangler.” I basically found a pilot who had just returned and was ready to load up kids again, and then located the paperwork for those kids. I’d then attempt to find the kids, wrangle them into one place, grab their logbooks and introduce them to their pilot. If everything clicked, the kids would meet a friendly pilot and they would wander over to the airplane to begin their pre-flight introduction.
Of course, it did not always click.
When you are trying to wrangle a dozen or more pilots and satisfy probably 200 kids and their parents, it can get pretty intense. The situation was compounded by the design of the event. The chapter clubhouse is at one end of the airport with grass parking for maybe three airplanes, but the rest had to operate from the ramp area far away at the other end of the airport. So in some instances, I’d wrangle the kids, hike them down to the ramp area, only to find out the pilot had hiked back to the clubhouse looking for his next load of kids! We’d have to sort it all out, and eventually kids and pilot would be united and aviating could take place.
As I was working hard to stay on track, I noticed a couple of handheld aviation radios just sitting behind the sign-up table. The head of the event and I both grabbed one, jumped on the “ground” frequency for this non-towered airport, and I hiked back to the ramp to be his eyes, hoping to streamline the process. 

Great plan, right? Well, Mother Nature had other plans…
Once I made it to the ramp, radio in hand, the first pilot I spoke with was the Decathlon driver who said the direct crosswinds 10G20 was enough to ground him for the day. He had been watching everything from Skylanes to RVs go around due to the gusty conditions, and wisely chose to park his airplane so as to not risk scaring the crap out of some impressionable young kid. One by one, the Luscumbe, the Cessna 120, the Skyhawk, they all started coming to the same conclusion, the crosswinds were just too severe to continue flying. This decision coincided perfectly with a flood of new kids hammering the sign-up table looking for rides. The chapter could have easily used 20 more airplanes to give all the kids rides that wanted one.
I had to depart mid-afternoon, but came away with a new respect for all the EAA Young Eagles volunteers who have contributed to the program flying over two million kids. It is incredibly hard work to put one of these large events on. But when you see the anticipation of the kids as they meet their pilot, and see their big grins when they climb out of the plane after their ride, every tiny bit of work to make this happen is worth it.

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