'Young Eagles' take to sky to ease fears
For Westerville resident Dick Wetherald, the EAA Young Eagles program is about more than just giving kids a free airplane ride.
"Often times the kids don't see aviation as a possibility," he said. "Even if they don't see it as a career, it's a view of the world that you don't have otherwise."
Wetherald is the president of EAA Chapter 9, the central Ohio chapter of the Experimental Aircraft Association. He serves as one of the volunteer pilots for EAA's Young Eagles program, a national outreach effort that aims to introduce children ages 8 to 17 to the world of aviation by providing free airplane rides with licensed local pilots.
Internationally, more than 1.5-million kids have flown through Young Eagles, and the volunteer pilots of Chapter 9 have completed more than 5,000 flights. Wetherald's tally is 600 and counting.
"A lot of kids aren't afraid of airplanes, but some are," he said. For some children, Young Eagles is about "growing up to deal with fears."
Misty and Jerome Davis decided to take their nephew Todd Davis to the March 27 Young Eagles rally at Bolton Field after he mentioned being afraid of flying. Todd, 11, is a resident of the Northland area.
"I've been on big planes, but not small planes," Todd said as he waited for his turn, adding that he was "very scared."
He wasn't the only one who was nervous.
"I'm pretty nauseous," said Patrick Richard of Galloway, who waited for his flight along with his friend Ashton Schweyer. The two are classmates at Darby Woods Elementary School.
The flight rally was a surprise planned by their parents.
"We didn't even know," Richard said. "All I knew was that my friend was spending the night."
Schweyer was excited to "go up high" and "see down far," while Richard wanted "to see the little people who look like ants."
The pilots prepare participants with a pre-flight briefing, Wetherald said, and during the flight, they constantly monitor the comfort level of each participant.
"Although the most important concern is to fly the airplane and talk to the tower, I listen to the intercom to see if they're chattering," he said. "If they're not chattering, I get them to chatter. Once they're chattering, I get an idea of how interested they are and how they're feeling about the ride."
Todd was chattering by the time he returned from his flight with Wetherald at the helm of a Cessna 172.
"I want to do it again," he said. "I could see a lot more than I would have been able to in the backseat." Todd also said he'd like to learn to fly one day.
"I'm going to be a pilot," he said.
Andrew Brewer, Markel Croston and John Kinser, all members of the Columbus Downtown High School Air Force Junior ROTC program, also attended the Young Eagles rally.
"We live for the excitement of it," said Croston, 16, of German Village. "It's all about new experiences. I would rather fly than drive any day."
"The reactions of the kids are the best," Wetherald said. One of the most memorable reactions came from a participant in a Young Eagles rally held at Ohio State University.
"There was a kid who was in the front seat, and he was a little bit scared," Wetherald said. "We're about 300 feet off the ground, and we could see the cows at the ag school on one side, and Sawmill Road. And all he could say was 'Thank you God!'"
Eight-year-old Andre Edmundson of Reynoldsburg was equally enthusiastic at last Saturday's event.
When asked for his reaction after his flight landed, Edmundson said, "This is the best day of my life!"