Young Eagles surpasses 1.3 million kids

On St. Patrick’s Day, Paul Rachels of Yuma, Ariz., flew 13-year-old Arlene Martinez on the 1.3 millionth Young Eagles flight since the program was started 15 years ago.

Rachels is one of more than 40,000 pilots who have participated in the program, which gives kids their first flights in GA airplanes.

“Some volunteers have flown just one kid, while others have flown thousands,” noted Steve Buss, executive director of the program. “The pilots fly in almost everything from hot air balloons up to a Pilatus.”That’s pretty rare, of course. Most Young Eagles flights are conducted in core GA planes, such as Cessna 172s and 182s, as well as Piper Warriors and Archers.

“So many of our members love to fly,” he said. “We hear from them all the time. They say ‘I don’t know who’s having more fun — me or the kids.”

As the program celebrates its 15th year, officials hope to fly 100,000 kids this year.

Movie star Harrison Ford will continue as chairman of the program through 2009. An avid pilot, Ford has opened up a “whole new audience” for Young Eagles, according to Buss. “He’s brought a different level of exposure to the program,” he said. “He’s well-known to the general public and he loves sharing aviation with kids.”

“It’s up to each of us who flies to welcome others into this unique environment,” said Ford, who has served as Young Eagles chairman since 2004. “That’s why I fly Young Eagles and urge all pilots and aviation enthusiasts to become involved in the program. The future of personal flight depends on us.”

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