Taxiing onto the runway, pilot Don McDonald informs passengers buckled into his Van’s RV-10 that he built the airplane by himself and previously knew zip about flying.
“Anyone want me to stop so you can get off?” McDonald said moments before takeoff.
“No way,” they say, despite McDonald’s preflight request to grab one of the towels conveniently placed in the floorboard should a bout of queasiness erupt.
“My wife will kill me if I bring the plane back all messed up,” McDonald said.
McDonald’s fears prove unfounded; no one gets sick. Despite this being his first-ever flight, 8-year-old Ryan Hart of Cleburne parked in the copilot’s seat, displays the right stuff for a future stick and rudder man. The smile on his face as he glances toward his father, Greg Hart, in the four-seater’s back seat, shows he’s far from worried.
Hart joined several dozen children 7 to 17 Saturday morning at Cleburne Regional Airport for on-the-house flights courtesy of area pilots and the Experimental Aircraft Association Dalworth Chapter 24’s Young Eagles program. Saturday marked EAA’s inaugural Cleburne event.
“This is a great turnout,” said Michelle Daniel, Young Eagles coordinator. “We’re really happy with it. We’ve had about 150 kids who got to fly and more than 17 aircraft fly in. I really have to applaud the Brazos 983 chapter for helping us out and all the pilots who have been so magnanimous with donating their time and fuel.”
Takeoff and flight in a smaller plane is a lot noisier though not much rougher than riding in a regular passenger plane. At least it was Saturday which, a few clouds aside, turned out a perfect morning weather wise, conditions that had organizers breathing a sigh of relief after fears overnight thunderstorms might cancel the day’s fun.
Several minutes into the flight, McDonald asks if everyone’s OK.
“Can we have some fun then?” McDonald asks before tilting the plane into a sharp left bank.
“No, that’s wrong, we need to go that way instead,” McDonald said, banking sharply right. “Or, maybe the other way was right after all.”
Safely back on terra firma, Ryan Hart called the 30-minute flight a lot of fun and something he hopes to do again. Hart listed takeoff, the “tricks and wing dips” as his favorite part of the experience.
Greg Hart said his son was out with his fellow members of Cub Scout Pack 1224 to learn more about aviation and the thrill of flight.
“It was awesome, especially when we went through a cloud,” said 10-year-old Mario Polley, who flew in the same plane after the Harts.
Andy Duff, one of the participating pilots, said he and the other pilots get just as big a kick as the kids during the flights, but also cited one of the reasons behind such events.
“The pilot community is declining,” Duff said. “So this is a great way to get younger kids interested in aircraft and aviation.”
Pilot Bill Signs agreed.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Signs said. “But we’re also hoping to build interest and develop future pilots. Obviously everyone’s not going to take flying lessons and become a pilot, but some of these kids may get into other aviation careers or go on to become senators, representatives, serve on their city council someday and support their airports and aviation.”
EAA Dalworth Chapter 34’s President Brandon Gordon said the goal of Young Eagles is to foster familiarization and interest in aviation and to mentor those children who may have an interest in aviation careers down the road.
Signs arrived in a Beech 18 plane able to seat seven in back and two up front, which gave each child passenger an opportunity to spend several minutes in the copilot’s seat. Signs, among other feats, retraced Charles Lindbergh’s historic non-stop flight from New York to Paris on the 70th anniversary of that event and landed on all seven continents in 1996.
“And anyway, a pilot will use any excuse to fly,” Duff said with a laugh. “We fly to eat.”
Duff was apparently referring to the heaping helpings of free sausage and pancakes laid out by CRA staff and volunteers. One of the perks of CRA’s Fifth Saturday Fly-Ins, one of which ran concurrent with Saturday’s Young Eagles’ event.
The fly-ins are just that: pilots near and far land aircraft of various makes at CRA for residents to peruse and ask questions about. It’s family fun and Cleburne’s way of raising awareness and interest in the airport. Saturday brought a mix of about 30 airplanes, helicopters and two open-air gyro copters, both roughly the size of a compact car.
“I’m relieved the weather turned out so good for this,” CRA Manager Sharlette Wilson said. “Both events went great, the fly in and the Young Eagles. The [Johnson County Civil Air Patrol] members did a great job of helping out and we got a pretty good turnout from our local people. Personally, I just love to see kids getting involved and experiencing aircraft.”
One pilot joked that he endured an arduous cross-country flight from Fort Worth Spinks Airport to Cleburne to partake of the day’s festivities.
“You need to build yourself one of these,” Caddo Mills resident Marc Hudson said about his sleek Vans RV-7.
Hudson’s wife, Kathy, jokes that for four years her memory of her husband was of him bending over building the plane.
“We went for the hot rod,” Kathy Hudson. “Really it’s just our daughter’s glorified taxi to go visit her grandparents in Louisiana.”
Calling the event a success, Gordon and Daniel said they hope to be back next year. In the meantime, they encourage anyone interested in aviation to visit www.EAA34.org to learn more about EAA and Young Eagles.