By Eric G. Sampson, EAA 1195867
Volunteering with the EAA Eagle Flight program is something that I have been having a great time participating in. Being able to share my joy of flying with others looking to become aviators has been a great experience for both me and the participants.
On September 21, 2019, I took Noah, a student in the Bergen County Community College aviation program in northern New Jersey, on a several-hour adventure complete with airplanes and rescue animals. There was a Pilots N Paws rescue flight that had been delayed previously due to bad weather in the southern states, and it finally looked like we could complete it. This PNP mission seemed like an excellent opportunity to provide Noah with some exposure to flying along with tying in a humanitarian aspect, showing how flying can be purposeful and mean more than just boring holes through the sky. While Noah was in the aviation program, surprisingly enough, he had never actually been in a small airplane before! So he was beaming with excitement at the adventure to come, and I was happy to have someone to share it with.
We preflighted the airplane, loaded up our empty crates, and made our way to the runway. I gave him the checklist, explaining what we were doing and checking for as he read off the items. Then we took off and headed towards our first stop at Sky Manor (N40) for fuel. Noah watched what was going on with interest and amazement and I just let it soak in for him.
After fueling the plane, we continued farther south on our way to St. Mary’s (2W6) in Maryland. With a decent grasp as to what was going on at this point, I asked Noah if he was interested in flying and his response was nothing short of eager excitement. Within a matter of minutes, he was holding altitude and heading while I continued to work the radios. I let him fly a good portion of our flight to Maryland, and as we crossed the Chesapeake Bay, I took back the controls. We landed at St. Mary’s and met up with a doctor from North Carolina who passed along five puppies into our care. These adorable furballs were being transported to Tri-Boro rescue in Butler, New Jersey, as well as a rescue in Maine — another pilot would meet up with us back at Lincoln Park Airport to handle that leg.
With the airplane packed with puppies and our tanks full of fuel, we started making our way back north. I climbed to our cruise altitude, leveled off, and passed controls back to Noah for another 30 minutes. I thought I would do something special, so I got on with Philly approach and was granted clearance into the Bravo airspace for a scenic ride past Philadelphia International and downtown Philly, then northeast past PNE following the Delaware river back to New Jersey. All along, Noah remained full of amazement and awe at what we were doing. After clearing the Bravo airspace, I let him fly some more.
We made our way back to Lincoln Park, transferred the puppies to our awaiting parties, and had a quick postflight debriefing. He thanked me for the incredible experience and said he’d never forget it.
The following evening I received this message: “Hi, Eric. It was a pleasure meeting you in person yesterday. I want to thank you again for yesterday’s flight. It was an experience that I will never forget. I am still ecstatic over it. To be able to have an opportunity like this is overwhelming. What a great way to get people into flying. And what a great organization Pilots N Paws is. I want to say again that I would love to be a part of a Pilots N Paws flight if you ever want the company. Thank you again!! — Noah”
Messages like these are always wonderful to receive. If you are thinking about volunteering for the Eagle Flight program, you should do it. If you are looking to become a CFI, you should do it. If you want to remember why you learned to fly, you should do it. If you want to share your joy of flight with someone who has an interest in learning to fly, you should do it. There are so many reasons to become an Eagle Flight volunteer. Do it just once and you’ll see!
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