Back to the days of heroes

How did you spend the first summer after you graduated from college? Jared Aicher from Boise, Idaho, spent the first part of his summer flying around the lower 48 states giving rides to Young Eagles. Ideally, he wants to do a world tour giving flights to some 400 kids between the ages of 8-17. The first phase of the adventure began May 28 in Boise.

“I’m doing this to get children interested in aviation again,” Aicher explained a week before he took off in a borrowed Cessna 172. “I want to take them back to the days of Charles Lindbergh and Neil Armstrong when there were heroes in aviation and the space industry. These days kids don’t hear much about heroes. The only time we hear about NASA anymore is when there is an accident. It’s about time we get the kids out of the house and away from the video games and back into the sciences like aviation. Not everything has been discovered.”

Aicher, 33, traces his interest in aviation to watching airplanes fly over his home in rural Idaho when he was a boy. He learned to fly as a teenager. After graduating from high school, he went to work at Horizon Airlines as a ramp agent.

“I figured it was a way to get my foot in the door,” he said. “In the meantime I was building my hours.” He has 520 hours and recently added a degree in Aviation Science from Utah Valley State College to his resume.

“I want to be involved in aviation research, like what the Rutans are doing,” he said. “We don’t know everything. There is still a lot to experience and explore.”

BUILDING A TEAM

No one could do a series of flights like this alone, so Aicher assembled a team. One of the key players is Stacey Commer, a writer and video producer from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. The pair met while collaborating on a project for an air show. In February 2004 they started toying with the idea of an epic Young Eagle flight. They knew it could not be done without significant monetary and material donations, so they developed a presentation to attract sponsors.

“We made a list of things we would need for the flight, then started making pitches to potential local sponsors to see what the interest was,” Aicher recalled. “It was favorable on a local level, so during AirVenture 2004 we made more presentations. If a company produced something we needed for the flight, we talked to them. For example we talked to every GPS manufacturer that was at AirVenture.”

Commer and Aicher also collected aviation magazines to get the names and contact information for every company they could think of and sent emails and query letters describing the project, along with requests for sponsorship.

“We heard back from maybe 5% of the people we contacted,” Aicher said.

Some of the monetary support has come from private donations, he said, “but most of it has come from Utah Valley State College. The college will be flying with us in their Diamond Star to promote the AeroScholars Program. The program allows high school students to take aviation related electives and get college credit for doing it.”

The other major sponsor is West Mesa Aviation, an FBO and flight school in Albuquerque, N.M., that is linked with Utah Valley State College.

“They donated the Cessna 172,” Aicher said. “The airplane is a fully IFR equipped 172. It is a good cross country airplane and we really appreciate the donation because summer is the busiest time of the year for a flight school and for them to loan us an airplane really says something.”

Aicher’s team also includes project manager Kerry Widmer, who is based in Boise. The epic journey is being documented through the talents of Terry Allington, a broadcast media specialist whose job is DVD production.

A CLOSE-KNIT COMMUNITY

“If you have ever planned a Young Eagle’s rally at your home airport, you know it can be a challenge. I had to do it from another country!” Commer laughed. “I spent a lot of time on the Internet emailing people. The different time zones was a challenge because Jared was in Boise and I was in Saskatchewan, but in some cases it made it easier to get the EAA members at home because they had regular jobs and are only home in the evening. I had a rather high phone bill after calling all 48 states. Sometimes we were given a polite no thank you, we do our own Young Eagles flights, we don’t need you, but in other cases they were happy to be part of it. If a particular airport or EAA chapter didn’t want us, we didn’t push it, we just moved on to one in the next town and tried there.”

Local EAA chapters help organize the event and round up kids for the flights. They also supply other pilots and aircraft so all the children get a ride. Aicher joins the Young Eagles rally for a few hours, then flies on to one in the next city.

Aicher noted that they didn’t have any trouble coming up with places to stay the night.

“At every stop we either had a hotel sponsor us with accommodations or an EAA member put us up for the night,” he said.

The hospitality doesn’t surprise Steve Buss, executive director of the Young Eagles program. “The EAA is a very close knit community,” he said. “Very often if someone is stranded at an airport because of weather and they are an EAA member and a local EAA member finds out, they will come to that person’s rescue.”

As this issue was going to press, Aicher was approaching the end of the first phase of his journey. The plan was for him to be back home in Idaho by July 4.

Next spring he plans to undertake the second phase of his epic journey by attempting to fly around the world. The world Young Eagles flight will take more planning, he noted, because of the political considerations of flying in foreign countries.

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