Unique program provides local youth with a unique view from above
By Dan McDonald
For Hometown News
MERRITT ISLAND -- For the 19th year in a row, local pilots will be launching another round of "Young Eagles" into the sky over Brevard County on Saturday, April 27, as part of the Experimental Aircraft Association's annual Young Eagles Rally at the Merritt Island Airport.
"It's a great program and we're all proud to be part of the operation," said Bobbi Lasher, a volunteer and coordinator of the ground crew for this year's Young Eagles Rally.
The program provides as opportunity for youngsters between the ages of 8 and 17 to take a free, 20-minute flight in either a plane or a helicopter, courtesy of local members of the EAA's Chapter No. 724.
Mrs. Lasher, herself a pilot for more than 20 years, said upward of 18 local pilots will be on-hand for the event that has so far launched 5,610 youngsters into the air over Merritt Island - many for the first time - through the years. These pilots donate their own planes and pay for the aviation fuel, which is currently around $6 a gallon.
"This program actually began in 1993 in Oshkosh, Wisc., which is home to the EAA," Mrs. Lasher said. "The initial intention was to fly 1 million 'Young Eagles' before 2003, which was the 100th anniversary of the Wright Brother's first flight.
"Actually, by the 2003 anniversary, the number of young fliers had eclipsed 1.2 million," she added. "By now that figure is close to 2 million youngsters, who have gotten a chance to fly. It's a great way to introduce youngsters to flying. I'll tell you, there's nothing that can beat the grin you see on the young faces when they get back on the ground. You take a look at their faces and you know they just had an experience they will never forget."
One of the members of the group is in his 90s and had his first flight when he was 14, Mrs. Lasher said.
"He can still recall the details of that first flight," she said. "It's something you just don't forget. That's what these kids are getting. It's a thrill that we're all proud to deliver."
Registration for the flights will start at 8:30 a.m. on April 27 and will close at noon. Flights will begin at 9 a.m. and will be 'first-come, first-fly' basis.
A parent or guardian must accompany the child participant and must sign a permission form for each participant who signs up.
"A typical flight is a large circle," Mrs. Lasher explained. "We take off east, over the Banana River, and fly out to the beach. Then, we turn north and go up to Port Canaveral. We turn west and fly over the port and turn south and follow the Banana River back to the airport, where each Young Eagle gets a log book, a one-year free membership in the EAA, a certificate for the flight and the chance to take the ground-school portion of the test - required if someone desires to get a pilot's license."
Participants have the opportunity to see a lot of unique things during the trip, Mrs. Lasher said.
"We see people on the beach and at the Port," she said. "Sometimes we will see a submarine or a cruise ship at the Port. Sometimes, we'll see manatees or other animals. The big thing is that the children are up in the air, and you never know how that might light a spark in someone."
Mrs. Lasher knows full how that initial flight can turn someone into an active flyer.
Both of her daughters have taken a Young Eagle flight, and the trip had such an impact on her youngest daughter that it inspired her to become a pilot.
Other past participants have gone on to fly for the U.S. Air Force, while another is a pilot for Macaw Airlines in China.
"Obviously, not everyone is going to jump into an aviation career or become a recreational pilot," Mrs. Lasher said. "But, the point of this program is to expose kids to something they might not otherwise have a chance to do. It's a great program and we hope to have all of our planes filled up for this year's flights."
Weather is always an issue in flying, and according to Mrs. Lasher, is the major cause of flights being grounded.
Before heading out for the Young Eagles flights, she suggests that those interested call (321) 636-5346 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.