ELKHART — Dozens of ‘Young Eagles’ took flight for the first time Saturday, as local pilots volunteered their time, planes and fuel to take youngsters to the sky.
“We’ve flown over 2 million kids nation-wide,” said Doug Busch, who coordinated the local Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) event at the Elkhart Municipal Airport.
Everything at the Young Eagles event is done by volunteers, he said. They may volunteer because Young Eagles is a fun way to spend a Saturday morning, but there’s also an important cause behind it all.
“It gives a chance to give the next generation of kids, the aviators, air traffic controllers, mechanics, a chance to kind of inspire them and get them to see what they could possibly do in their future,” Busch said.
Many find it difficult to believe that they could become a pilot or have other jobs in aviation, and the Young Eagles program helps break that barrier, he said.
“There’s a kid we know who, he started off as just this little rat kid, and next thing you know, now he’s getting his A&P license and his pilot’s license, and he’s up there doing it,” said Busch.
That ‘rat kid’ is 24-year-old Mitch Ramsey, who was one the volunteers on Saturday.
“I got into flying when I was real young. My dad took me up to Muskegon Air Show, watched the Blue Angels Fly,” he said. “I caught the bug when I saw them.”
He then joined the local EAA, working on airplanes and eventually learning how to fly.
“As soon as your wheels get off the ground, your stomach sinks or it goes up in your throat, and you never know what’s going to happen,” Ramsey said. “I like that kind of stuff. I’m a thrill junkie.”
Ashely Walter brought two excited children to the Elkhart Municipal Airport for Young Eagles.
“They want to learn how to fly,” she said. “They’ve never flown before.”
Since one them was a bit nervous about the idea, Walter would be going up, too.
“I’ve never flown before either, so it will be an experience for both of us,” she said.
Young Eagles began in 1992, though it didn’t come to Elkhart until about 10 years ago, according to Busch. And when the Walter family heard of the event, it seems they were bound to show up.
“They love planes,” Walter said of her children. “They’ve been loving planes ever since they were little.”
One of the local pilots volunteering was Steven Lesher. He was on the ground this time, but has helped children see Elkhart from above at previous events.
“As a kid, I enjoyed flying, myself,” he said. “I first flew when I was two weeks old. My dad, he was a former World War II bomber pilot. And I learned to fly in a little taildragger aircraft, and just, I like to fly.”
Sharing that passion with a younger generation is important, he said, as the U.S. Air Force doesn’t produce as many pilots as it once did, while the need for people who can fly remains.
“The commercial industry has to take over and develop pilots, so we’re trying to get kids interested in being a pilot for future needs,” Lesher said.
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