‘Young Eagles’ Program Gives Aspiring Young Pilots Free Flights

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A unique program is giving children the chance to experience what it’s like to fly a small airplane.

The Experimental Aircraft Association’s Young Eagles program gives kids a free introductory flight.

The program has been around for 25 years at EAA chapters around the country.

It still remains very popular at the Lake Elmo Airport, which doesn’t typically have non-stop aircraft traffic on its runways.

But pilots like Josh Tocko, member of the EAA Chapter 54, line up for a 15-minute flight on the second Saturday every month with the hope of inspiring the next generation.

young eagles flying prgram Young Eagles Program Gives Aspiring Young Pilots Free Flights

Pilot Josh Tocko and Kyle Donnohue (credit: CBS)

“It’s a one-of-a-kind in the world where kids can actually get a free airplane ride, in a small plane versus one of the big planes,” Tocko said. “It’s really exciting for them and the pilots.”

Kyle Donnohue, 15, is one of those aspiring pilots.

“I’m pretty excited. I’m really looking forward to flying today,” Donnohue said.

He was one of dozens of kids, ages 8-17, to take part in the free flights. It will be his first time in a plane known as a Piper Archer.

“I hope to take away a good experience for the day, meet some new people, have fun, see the place,” Donnohue said. “If I’m given the opportunity, I’ll take the stick and I’ll fly us around.”

The goal of the program is to give kids a different view of the world that could one day lead to a career in flight.

“Out of all the kids, you find those one or two special ones that, you know what? They really like this,” Tocko said.

The smaller planes, which are flown by members of Lake Elmo’s EAA chapter, allow for a different experience than a commercial aircraft, including better views and closer distance to the ground.

“It was way cooler,” said 10-year-old Gavin Downs.

The Young Eagles free flight marked their first time in a plane for some of the participants. For others like Donnohue, it may be the start of a long career in flight.

“It takes more of my interest in the career, doing fun things like this,” he said. “Most people they sit and think it’s a bunch of text books, which in part it is, but doing fun things like this is just a way to keep the spark going of interest in this career.”

The Young Eagles flights take place every second Saturday during the summer months. Click here for more information.

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