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Pilots encourage kids to get their heads in the clouds

A plane sits outside Red Wing Regional Airport. Airports throughout the country will hold special events Saturday May 19 in celebration of International Learn to Fly Day.

Little kids tend to be fascinated by trains and airplanes, but for many of them the interest tapers off with age.

Others, however, get more captivated as years go by and grow up to be pilots, aircraft dispatchers or mechanics. Hoping to introduce their passions to a younger generation, members of the national Experimental Aircraft Association developed a program called Young Eagles.

Local EAA Chapter 1518, located at the Red Wing Regional Airport, is on board to hold a Young Eagles rally from 9:30 a.m. to noon Saturday May 19.

"We're trying to boost the education and interest and make sure people know what general aviation is about. Our airport is underutilized big time," chapter President E.G. Whitman said.

Growing up, Whitman said he loved the thought of flying, but didn't know it was a realistic option. He assumed all planes that flew were large commercial flights and didn't know owning could be possible. In part, that's what makes him such a supporter of Young Eagles.

"This is the exposure we need to get kids to understand that this is out there," Whitman said.

During the rally Saturday, kids ages 8-17 are given free rides with the consent of their parents. Upon completion of the flight, the "young eagles" are offered four other options to increase their experience with aviation.

In addition to receiving a free student membership to the EAA that extends until a child is 19 years old, a Young Eagle is also offered free online ground school to prepare him or her for taking the Federal Aviation Administration written exam. The exam is the first step in obtaining a private pilot's license.

After youths have completed a least one portion of ground school, they can enjoy their first flight lesson at a free or reduced cost as a result of being part of the program. Lastly, being a Young Eagle could increase a child's chances for earning scholarships to flight training programs.

Whitman said a Young Eagles flight can be set up at times outside of the rally, but the event provides an opportunity for many interested youth to learn all at once.

Honoring aviation

While the rally is being held at the Red Wing airport, hundreds of other locations throughout the country will be holding events of their own -- for a slightly different reason.

"We got very lucky with having our Young Eagles rally coincide with Learn to Fly Day," Whitman said.

International Learn to Fly Day was created by the EAA and is always held the third Saturday in May.

"A lot of airports plan festivities for the day," Whitman said.

The Young Eagles rally is Red Wing airport's way of celebrating, but it isn't the only time an event of that kind will be held. Kids are invited to sign up for future rallies June 16, July 21 and Aug. 18 as well. A registration form can be found at

While parents stand by and observe their children enjoying different aspects of aviation, they can keep in mind that their day is coming. Whitman said the local EAA chapter is hoping to introduce a regular Eagles program this fall that will provide all the same opportunities to adults.

"To see if the flying bug bites them."

If you go...

What: Young Eagles rally

Where: Red Wing Regional Airport, Bay City

When: Saturdays May 19, June 16, July 21 and Aug. 18

Why: The rallies offer youths ages 8-17 the opportunity to learn about general aviation and take a free flight with an EAA pilot.

Cost: Free

More information: Call E.G. Whitman at 612-817-3341 or visit