When did your dream to fly first take root? Were you the kid who biked to the local airport and stood by the fence watching planes take off and land? Or maybe you saw Top Gun and embarked on a career as a military aviator.
I was lucky. My dad was a pilot and my first flight came a few months after I was born. Growing up, getting in the plane was normal – like getting in a car. So taking flying lessons and getting my private pilots license as a teenager was also normal for me. But for most kids, it’s not.
The question is, how can your flying club or individual members introduce today’s youth to aviation and inspire the next generation of aviators? One way is to fly Young Eagles – either as an individual pilot in your club plane or by joining forces with your local EAA Chapter and host a Young Eagles Rally.
Many flying clubs fly Young Eagles including the Oregon Outback Aviators based at Lake County Airport (LKV) in Lakeview, Oregon and the Cape Cod Aero Club based at Falmouth Airpark (5B6) and Barnstable Municipal-Boardman Poland Field (HYA) in Hyannis, Massachusetts.
“For general aviation to grow and survive, you have to get kids interested in it early. They have to have a great experience,” Cape Cod Aero Club President David Fisichella said. “They have to have something that sparks their interest to set them down that path at an early age, and the Young Eagles is a perfect way to do that.”
The Young Eagles Program began in 1992 and offers kids ages 8 to 17 free airplane rides. In the nearly 30 years since it was created, the program has given more than 2.2 million youth their first ride in an airplane. In addition to the flight, which typically lasts about 20 minutes, the kids receive a certificate commemorating the event, a logbook, and a code to get a free online ground school course through Sporty’s.
The Cape Cod Aero Club has 15 members and two aircraft, a Cessna 172 based at Falmouth and a Grumman Tiger based at Hyannis. The club participates in Young Eagles rallies through its members who are also members of EAA Chapter 51. “We offered to help in any way we could – use the planes to fly kids, use our members as pilots and support staff,” David said. “It was something that was done in conjunction with the EAA chapter that a lot of us are members of.”
Getting Started as a Young Eagles Pilot
If your club is interested in participating in the Young Eagles Program, start with the Young Eagles page on EAA’s website. It has all the information you need. In addition, there is a website, YoungEaglesDay.org, which was developed by an EAA member to help automate the registration process and paperwork required for a Young Eagle Rally.
To host a Young Eagle Rally, you need to do it with an EAA Chapter, which will likely handle all of the logistics. If your members are not part of an EAA chapter or you don’t know where the nearest chapter is, EAA has an online Chapter Finder, similar to AOPA’s Flying Club Finder.
To fly Young Eagles, the pilot must be an EAA member and complete the EAA Youth Protection Program, which includes a short online training and background check (See this month’s Safety article). The background check can take up to 10 days to complete, so make sure you leave enough time to do that. Other requirements include holding a valid airmen’s certificate – Sport Pilot or greater, have a current medical or BasicMed, and have aircraft passenger liability insurance for the aircraft. The full list of requirements can be found on the EAA Young Eagles page.
As long as the pilot is a current EAA member and has insurance for at least $100,000 per seat or per person, EAA has a $1 million umbrella policy that covers the pilot for anything that would happen during a Young Eagles flight, said EAA Young Eagles Manager Brian O’Lena. The insurance would not name the flying club, but it will cover liability on top of the insurance on the airplane.
“If you want to do a rally with multiple planes flying, you will need multiple EAA national members that meet our youth protection and meet our pilot guidelines,” Brian said. “They’re pretty basic. As long as you do that, I would work the local [EAA] chapter. They can help set up a rally and you can have flying club members who are also EAA members giving Young Eagle flights.”
In addition to the aircraft liability, if a chapter hosts a rally, there is an additional $1 million insurance that covers anything related to the event. The chapter has to let EAA headquarters know at least 30 days in advance in order to get the coverage, which is free to the chapter.
What to expect at a Young Eagles Rally
The EAA chapter is likely to handle most of the logistics for setting up the Young Eagle Rally by scheduling it. If they are using the YoungEaglesDay.org website, kids can be pre-registered and parents can pre-sign the event form, print it out and bring it. Pre-registration helps with planning since you’ll know in advance how many kids you might have, said Bill Shay, Young Eagle Coordinator for EAA Chapter 643 at Sky Manor Airport (N40) in Pittstown, NJ.
“If they are not doing it through YoungEaglesDay.org then they have to order in advance the Young Eagles packets – the brochures, the forms they fill out, and the logbooks,” Bill said.
Using the website allows you to send out email marketing the event, including past registrants. Bill noted there is often a 20 to 25 percent no show rate, so having a way to reach those who were interested previously is helpful in getting a good turnout. Also, there is no limit on the number of times a child can take a Young Eagle flight. The more the child flies, the more likely they are to take lessons and become a pilot.
Once the event is set up, the flying club can help spread the word. Place flyers at the airports in the area and send the information to local papers and post on social media – on the club page, aviation pages or local community pages. It’s helpful to advertise on community calendar pages, as well as sending a press release to local media that might generate a story before the event and after.
The day of the rally, it’s helpful to have lots of ground volunteers, which is a way club members can participate even if they are not EAA members. Having people to help with check-in, onsite registration, and to escort the families to and from the planes is important. It helps the event run smoothly and safely. Most parents like walking out to the aircraft to take pictures, but they should always be escorted by someone familiar with aviation operations when they are on an active ramp. It’s always wise to brief the parents and children about safe conduct when walking on a ramp and what to expect when you get to the airplane. Although the program is designed to fly children, if there is a need for a parent to accompany the child on the flight, they may. However, there is a separate form the parent must fill it before flying.
As part of the experience, pilots will do a preflight inspection of the aircraft explaining what the different parts of an aircraft do – like the ailerons or rudder. This is a good time for photos. Whether you’re flying Young Eagles or anyone else, it’s always good to provide a passenger briefing. With kids flying for the first time, they may be nervous, so explaining what they are going to experience beforehand helps them understand what is happening and often takes away any anxiety, which allows them to more fully enjoy the experience.
The flight generally lasts about 20 minutes and with older kids, most pilots allow them to fly. After the flight, the children receive a flight certificate with their name on it signed by the pilot and a logbook in which they keep.
“I get extreme pleasure seeing the joy on the kids faces when you give them control of the aircraft and say do you want to fly?” Cape Cod Aero Club President David Fisichella said. “When you’ve given them control of the plane and they realize they’re flying, it’s just amazing the revelation for them. And to see their expression when they do that is really priceless.”
If club members want to fly Young Eagles on their own, that is something that they can do. You can request materials – the registration form that the parents and pilot must sign, the certificate, logbook and other materials. David would like his club to become more involved in engaging youth. “We keep a whole package of Young Eagles material in the hangar with the aircraft and we encourage our members to fly kids anytime they want,” he said. “They can do it whenever they have the time, when they connect with the kids.”
By introducing kids to aviation at a young age through a flight experience, and providing resources to learn about aviation through the Young Eagles program and your flying club is an important step in creating the next generation of aviators. And who knows, perhaps future club members as well.
Get the word out to the pilots and other volunteers. If pilots are not already EAA members, they need to join the national organization and go through the Youth Protection Training.
The EAA chapter should order supplies when creating the event – brochures, flight certificates for the kids, and logbooks.