On a beautiful, clear Saturday morning (May 4) at the Woodlake Airport, six volunteer pilots continued a tradition that began 25 years ago. Given free flights in small single-engine aircraft, Central Valley kids ages 8 to 17 were given a higher perspective on their hometown, many of whom flew for the first time.
Ceremonial music preceded the roar of the engines. Rachel Benson, daughter of mechanic and pilot George Benson, had kicked off the day with “The Star-Spangled Banner” in person the last three years (after working as a mechanic on each of the planes going up). This year Rachel was in the army training out-of-state to become a Chinook helicopter mechanic. She sent an inspirational new version played over the PA before the crowd sang “America the Beautiful.”
With pilots Hans Steiner, Ian Steiner, Mike LeFave, George Benson, Kevin Thompson, John Abercrombie and emcee Chris Crumly, 102 youth took part in the free flights. In addition to fun, the goal was to open the kids’ eyes to careers as pilots, engineers, and airport technicians. The excitement was punctuated by a smoky fly-over by George Benson in his red Stearman biplane.
Today, more than 2 million young people have enjoyed a free introductory flight through the Young Eagles program. These flights are made possible through the generosity of EAA member volunteers, including the Woodlake Flying Tigers (Chapter 1292), a wing of the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA).