Young Eagles inspires young flyers

Mar 5, 2024 | Featured, Around Ottawa County | 0 comments

Colton Williams and his sister, Juliet Williams, prepare to take off on a Young Eagles Flight. (Photo by Sheri Trusty)

BY SHERI TRUSTY

Since it launched in 1992, Young Eagles has opened the cockpit door to over 2 million youths who had the opportunity to enjoy their first flight for free. Many of those kids took to the skies for the first time right here in Port Clinton, thanks to Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) “Tin Goose” Chapter 1247. Young Eagles flights are available to youths ages 8 to 17.

“Young Eagles is a program that EAA has to introduce youths to aviation,” said EAA Chapter 1247 President Lisa Benjamin.

Benjamin and EAA Chapter 1247 Vice President, Dave Hirt, both serve as Young Eagles coordinators for the chapter.

Dave Hirt, left, and Lisa Benjamin are Young Eagles coordinators for EAA “Tin Goose” Chapter 1247. (Photo by Sheri Trusty)

“Our job is to inspire the next generation of pilots,” Hirt said. “We want to inspire kids who never got close to a plane or feel like they can’t fly. If you tell a kid no long enough, they’ll believe it.”

EAA Chapter 1247 hosts dedicated Young Eagles events in Port Clinton, but families are welcome to call to schedule a Young Eagle flight for their children anytime.

“We show them around the plane and tell them what to expect and then take them on a 15 or 20-minute ride. We’ll fly over the Marblehead Lighthouse or over Cedar Point,” Hirt said. “We never know how we will touch people. Sometimes, it’s just a plane ride. Other times, they walk away wanting to be a pilot.”

Juliet and Colton Williams are all smiles after their Young Eagles flight. (Photo by Sheri Trusty)

Once in a while, Benjamin and Hirt hear back from former first-flighters who now pilot their own planes.

“I remember years ago, a young boy came with his teddy bear. He was so afraid,” Benjamin said. “He went up for a flight and came back all smiles. We got a letter from him saying he got his pilot’s license.”

Like many of the kids who ride in his plane, Hirt got his first taste of flight as a young boy. It lit an aviation fire inside him that kindled until he was in his sixties.

“I always wanted to fly, but life got in the way. I had three girls to raise,” he said. “I finally decided to buy an airplane at the age of 68. I just got my pilot’s license a few years before that.”

Ray Ebner flies above Erie-Ottawa International Airport with passengers Juliet and Colton Williams. Colton had the chance to fly the plane during the flight. (Photo by Sheri Trusty)

Benjamin also fell in love with aviation at a young age.

“My dad was a private pilot,” she said. “We lived on Put-in-Bay, and I would hop on planes all the time. It was like hopping in a car for me.”

Today, Benjamin and Hirt want to share their passion for aviation with children.

“Families can contact us anytime, and we’ll set them up with a pilot,” Benjamin said.

For more information on EEA Chapter 1247 or the Young Eagles program, visit www.tingoose1247.org or email tingoose1247@gmail.com.

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