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Aviators for a day

Youths take to the sky

by: Photo By Joe McHaney - Pilot Leon Smith, left, gives instruction to Sherrilee DeVore and her brother Jeremiah DeVore prior to their flight in a Lancair Super ES built by Smith himself in 2003.

Youths took center stage during the Young Eagles Rally June 16 at the Madras Municipal Airport, some flying for the first time in their young lives.
   Hosted by Berg Air LLC and the Prineville Experimental Aircraft Association Chapter, 48 kids took to the skies in small aircraft to enjoy a 20-minute flight that included views of Lake Simtustus, Lake Billy Chinook, Haystack Reservoir, Culver and Madras.
   "It was better than a roller coaster ride - very scarier," said Jefferson County Middle School eighth-grade student Jeremy Stinson. "We took a couple sharp turns, and I was actually flying the airplane for awhile."
   Youths aged 8 to 17 years joined volunteer pilots and their planes for a ride in the clear Central Oregon skies last Saturday, producing smiles for not only the kids, but the pilots and volunteers involved as well.
   "I thoroughly enjoyed my time with the kids," said Leon Smith, who was one of 10 pilots that flew participants during the event. "We let the kids take control of the plane for a few minutes, and you should have seen the looks on their faces."
   Many of the pilots let the youths hold the yoke and guide the plane.
   "It was really fun," said 9-year-old Aiden Alvarez, who flew for the first time. "The pilot tricked me. He was flying and then told me to grab the controls, and he let go, and said I was flying. I was like, `What?'"
   Participants were given a brief preflight instruction, before strapping into aircraft like Smith's four-person Lancair Super ES that cruises up to 250 mph.
   "This is a kit-built airplane that I built in 2003," Smith said. "I think this is just a great program, and you'd be surprised at how many kids don't realize there are a ton of opportunities in aviation."
   The program was completely free to the youngsters. Berg Air contributed pilots and fuel, and some pilots donated their own fuel and time to support the event.
   "We really want kids to be involved in something positive and also expose them to aviation," said Tracy Berg, who is co-owner of Berg Air with Rob Berg. "Last Saturday was a great day, and the weather was perfect for flying. I think all the kids had a great time."
   Last weekend marked the third time that the event took place in Madras. Last year, 61 kids participated in the program.
   "The program means so much to the parents and the kids," Berg said. "We have many parents come back and donate to help out. We hope to bring this event to Madras every year."
   The youngsters were given a certificate, an official aviation logbook and a picture taken with their respective pilots and aircraft.
   "I've helped with this program all over the region," Smith said. "These kids were having a ball and will remember this experience for a long time."
   Most participants flew with only the pilot, although Smith flew a brother and a sister together.
   "The air was smooth and they loved it," Smith said.
   After the flights, participants were treated to a free lunch, and many youngsters discussed their time in the air and what they saw.
   "It was a lot of fun," Aiden Alvarez said. "We saw lakes, Smith Rock and Haystack. I'd definitely do it again."
   The EAA Young Eagles program was launched in 1992 to give interested young people, ages 8 to 17, an opportunity to go flying in a general aviation airplane. The flights are offered free of charge and are made possible through the generosity of EAA member volunteers. EAA is an international aviation membership association founded in 1953 and headquartered in Oshkosh, Wis. EAA sponsors many aviation education programs including the EAA Young Eagles program.