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Granite Bay Pilot steers young minds toward the sky

By: Brody Fernandez Of Gold Country Media
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Among the more than 50,000 volunteers internationally donating their time and aircraft to the effort of helping youth learn about aviation is Granite Bay resident and pilot Bruce Estes.

The Young Eagles Program was unveiled by the Experimental Aircraft Association in July 1992 and has now flown more than 2 million youth, according to association spokesman Dick Knapinski. Estes flies out of the Lincoln airport.

Experimental Aircraft Association is a worldwide organization with more than 200,000 members who enjoy recreational flight. The Young Eagles program’s goal is to allow youth to experience positive activities and discover what’s possible in aviation, according to Knapinski.

“Young Eagles is where our members volunteer their time to fly kids 8 to 17 and introduce them to aviation,” Knapinski said. “There are young pilots right now who that had their start in the Young Eagle program themselves.”

Knapinski emphasized that the knowledge and education-based part of the program is a key element within the Young Eagle program.

“This gives young people an opportunity how airplanes work. The kids come out and learn about flight safety, how to check a plane preflight and so forth,” Knapinski said. “It really gives them an idea of what it’s like to be in the cockpit.”

“We have more than 900 chapters across the country and we put on regional flight rallies for kids who would like to go flying. I don’t know what's more fun: the kids who are flying or us pilot instructors who are flying them,” Knapinski said. “That as a pilot is the most gratifying part of the program. To know that one of those kids will go on to be an airline pilot, may go into the military and fly for the military is great. We fully expect one day that one of our Young Eagles will go on to become an American astronaut.”

It is free for parents to sign their children up to fly, according to officials.

“The Young Eagles program is free of charge, so you don’t have to worry about the money if you don’t have it,” Knapinski said.

“Since I was a little kid, I built model airplanes with my dad,” Estes said. “I have been flying since the year 2000, I currently own two airplanes and have just sold another that I built myself.”

“I starting flying Young Eagles somewhere around 2005 or 2006,” Estes said. “We live, breath, eat, drink and sleep aviation. We have the freedom to fly and live that life, so we have to share that joy too. In my airplane, we load up one to three kids, fly them around for about 20 minutes and then fly back around and pick up the next set of kids. On some days, we start at about 8 a.m. and don't finish up around 12 p.m.”

Estes’ biggest reward “is catching the sparkle in the eye of just one Young Eagle who is enthralled by being up in the air.”

“Between that time of our first flight of the day to the last, there will always be two or three kids who just absolutely click and are hooked for life,” Estes said. “That is what makes all of this worthwhile.”

Estes stressed that the Young Eagles who participate have a much more structured life plan if aviation is something they want to do.

“These kids are planning where they want to go to college.” Estes said. “Especially ones with aviation programs. These kids really do have their young adult life planned out after this. They are already on the career path, due to the Young Eagle program. We have the ability to foster that desire.”

Estes mentioned that right now is the most opportunistic time to be a pilot.

“With baby boomers now retiring, nearly every market for pilots is experiencing a severe shortage in pilots,” Estes said.

Estes belongs to the Experimental Aircraft Association chapter based out of the Lincoln airport. For more information on the local chapter, visit.EAA1541.org.  

For more information on signing up children for the program or for more information about aviation, visit EAA.org/youngeagles.