If you’re a parent, there’s one way to help your kid get high and feel good about it. On the second Sunday of each month (except December), the pilots of Experimental Aircraft Association Chapter 1268, based at Sonoma Skypark Airport, offer free airplane rides to youths 8 to 17 as part of the organization’s Young Eagles program.
The ride lasts just over 30 minutes and gives the passengers a birds-eye tour of Sonoma Valley. And there’s no age limit for qualifying for a free ride. Through the Eagles adult program, those over 18 can also feel the thrill of flying, so these outings sometime become a family affair, with several generations taking to the skies on any given Sunday.
EAA is an international aviation nonprofit organization based in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, with chapters located in all 50 states.
Retired Pan Am pilot Rich Cooper is one of about a dozen pilots who volunteer for the Young Eagles program. It’s an opportunity for them to pass along their enthusiasm and love for flying to a much younger generation. Cooper, who retired 15 years ago after more than four decades as a commercial airline pilot and five years flying for the Navy, flies a 1946 Aeronca Champ two-seater, a model frequently used before World War II for primary training of future fighter pilots.
For some of the youngsters, it’s a one-time thrill; for others, it becomes a passion.
“I’ve seen about half a dozen or so of our Young Eagles go on to become professional pilots,” said Cooper with pride.
For their first outing, the adventurous young fliers are awarded a Young Eagles Certificate, a souvenir indicating that they have “experienced the true adventure of flight.” Their name is also entered into the World’s Largest Logbook at the EAA AirVenture Museum in Oshkosh. Those who want to continue flying can request a Pilot’s Flight Log and Record to track their future flights.
The next rides are Sunday, October 13 (and November 10) from 9 to 11 a.m. Sonoma Skypark is located at 21870 Eighth St. East. For more information about the Young Eagles and other programs offered to the community, contact 996-2100 Sonomaskypark.com.
Photo: Paul Siebert hand props Rich Cooper’s Aeronca Champ in preparation for a free ride for James Foley, 13, as part of Sonoma Skypark’s Young Eagles program.