Free flights help Young Eagles program introduce aviation to youngsters | Local News

ANDERSON — As she stepped out of the plane and placed both feet firmly back on the ground, Lani Huffman expressed in four words what she and dozens of other youngsters felt like after taking flight Saturday morning.

“That was so cool!” the youngster exclaimed as she posed for photos next to her ride.

Huffman was among about 100 young people between the ages of 8 and 17 who took advantage of the Experimental Aircraft Association’s local chapter offering free plane rides at Anderson Municipal Airport.

The Young Eagles program, forced into a two-year hiatus by the COVID-19 pandemic, returned for four hours, with five planes in a rotation giving 15-minute rides across the skies of Madison County. The program has been active since 1992, when it was introduced as a way to entice young people toward thinking about careers in the aviation industry, which has long seen a need for trained pilots.

“It opens up a whole new world for them,” said Steve Givens, one of the pilots who volunteered his time, plane and fuel to the effort. “All the airports are so fenced off and so…unfriendly now, if I will, because of all the security they need nowadays. In the old days, kids could just ride their bicycles to the airport and they could meet a pilot and watch his plane and maybe get a ride.

“It’s our way of introducing (flying) to them, and it’s been great,” he added.

The Young Eagles program has, in 28 years, given more than 2 million free rides across the country.

Givens has participated in the program for several years. He said nerve levels run differently according to his passengers’ personalities, but joked that he’s never had an unsatisfied customer.

“It’s interesting, the questions they come up with,” he said. “Some of them are thinkers, and then there are some that never say a word. But they all have smiles when they get out here.”

Steve Givens’ son, Keith, is the local EAA chapter president and also manages the aircraft repair shop at the airport. As a third generation aviator, his passion for bringing young people into contact with the experience of flying runs deep.

“My dad’s a pilot, my grandfather’s a pilot, my wife is a pilot, her dad’s a pilot,” the younger Givens said. “I’m an aircraft mechanic…I just grew up at this airport, in aviation, so that why (the Young Eagles program) is so special to me.”

Myana Running’s short flight with Steve Givens was her first ride in an airplane of any kind, she said. The experience was exhilarating, and she said she wasn’t quite prepared for the sensation of G-forces that accompanied takeoff and landing.

“I thought it was going to be scarier, but it wasn’t that scary, really,” said Running, an eighth grader at Longfellow Middle School in Indianapolis. “I had a lot of fun with it. It wasn’t as scary as I thought it was going to be. It was really fun.”

follow Andy Knight on Twitter @Andrew_J_Knight, or call 765-640-4809.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.