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Program gives kids taste of flying

CHESAPEAKE — It’s a chance to go up, up and away with the man in that flying machine.

And young people in the Tri-State area have a chance to do just that thanks to the Young Eagles program.

Started by the Experimental Aircraft Association, nationwide 1 million students have had the chance to experience their first airplane ride.

Locally, the Young Eagles program is based at the Lawrence County Airpark in Chesapeake under the direction of Don Lee, who has flown as a private pilot since 1962.

Volunteer pilots for the Young Eagles have flown participants for the past seven years. Their reason is described succinctly by Lee.

“It’s the joy of seeing their smiles getting off the airplane,” he said. “Almost everyone is very enthusiastic when they come off the plane.”

The Young Eagles go up in a Cessna-172, which is a four-seater aircraft. Taking off from the Chesapeake airport, the pilot with two students heads for the airport at Worthington, Ky.

There the participants switch seats so both can take advantage of the spectacular views afforded from the ride.

The planes will soar to just under 3,000 feet, compared to the 30,000 feet commercial craft fly at. There are 10 volunteer pilots available for the Chesapeake flights. There is no cost to the young people and the pilots provide their own fuel. The Young Eagles program is open to those 8 to 18 years old.

When they get up in the plane, the Young Eagles can fly the craft themselves, in a sense. There are dual controls, whereby they can get a sense of what it is like to fly while the pilot maintains control.

Many times the excitement and joy the students get from the ride inspires them to return to learn to fly themselves.

Retired Lt. Col. Terrance Maggard, now an ROTC instructor at Russell, Ky. High School, is a major supporter of the program. He brings his ROTC students to the airpark twice each year.

“It is so much fun to take them out to the plane and strap them in,” Maggard said. “When their eyes are huge and the expression on their face. They learn quite a bit about the basics of flying. … learn about what makes a plane fly.”

Ironically, while the program locally is based in Chesapeake, the majority of Young Eagles come from across the river. And that’s something Lee would like to see changed.

“I would very much like some Ohio kids to take advantage of it,” he said. “It is free, no cost to them. If we could get some Ohio kids. …”