Program helps hook young kids on flying - WFSB 3 Connecticut

Program helps hook young kids on flying

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With sports and school and video games, there are lots of activities competing for a child's time, but one group hopes a free event this weekend will propel young people to soar for new heights  at the controls of a plane.

It's called the Young Eagles program. They gave Eyewitness News a quick flight to show the station how they hope to hook kids, so their love of aviation will take off.   

Pilot Mark Occhialini took WFSB Anchor Eric Parker for a ride and even let him take the controls as they cruised over the Connecticut River. After taking off from the runway at Brainard Airport, Parker said the visuals were instantly stunning.  He said he saw green rolling hills, serene waters, the capital city and even a unique look at the WFSB studios. 

From inside the Piper Archer it feels like Parker said you can see everything, but the one thing hard to notice may be the aging of America's private pilots.

"We're all getting older as you can see from the white hair on my head, so we're trying to replenish the pilot supply, and the only way to do that is to get kids out and get them flying," Jack Hilditch, who is a Young Eagles coordinator, said.

Twice a year, pilots from local chapters of the Experimental Aircraft Association give rides to interested kids ages 8 to 17 and it's all free, including this weekend's event at Brainard.

"We donate all our time, fuel, airplanes, what have you, so the kids can get introduced to aviation at no cost," Hilditch said.

Since 1992, EAA chapters nationwide have given 1.8 million of these free rides through the Young Eagles program. They said 20,000 pilots under age 40 first got the bug on one of these flights.  

Eyewitness News asked Occhialini what the kids get from the experience of flying for the first time. 

"Normally, I'll fly three kids at a time and they are having the time of their lives," Occhialini said. "There's plenty of good questions and there's a lot of giggling and they have a ton of fun."

Once the kids are back on the ground, the local pilots point their passengers to other organizations, who can continue to foster their love of aviation. In some cases, they've even used donations to help a young eagle through flight school.

"We're the enabling technology," Hilditch said. "We get the kids up in the air, we get them jazzed and we hand them back to the educational organizations and they can carry on."

Flights will be happening from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. All you have to do is show up with the form and they'll give you a ride.

The address is 108 Lindbergh Dr. in Hartford. There will be banners on the fence and volunteers in orange safety vests on the ramp.

If you know a child who may want to fly, they can download the Young Eagles form by clicking here.  

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