It’s an impressive number: Since its founding in 1992, more than 1.76 million kids have flown as Young Eagles — a number that’s growing even as you read this.
The premise is simple: Introduce kids to aviation through a flight in a general aviation aircraft and — hopefully — inspire the next generation of pilots. And it’s working.
“There has been no other nationwide program as successful at creating pilots as Young Eagles,” says Brian O’Lena, manager of the Young Eagles and Youth Pathways for the Experimental Aircraft Association.
As the nation’s best-known program for inspiring an interest in aviation in youngsters, Young Eagles and EAA officials are regularly tapped by individuals and organizations around the nation for information and inspiration. Some want to add a Young Eagles rally to their events to give kids the actual experience of flight, while others hope to emulate the successful program.
“While there are many good local programs around the country, we explain that our program is designed to operate as a stand-alone EAA program through our chapter network and through EAA-member pilots,” O’Lena notes.
The participation of EAA members are volunteer pilots is essential as those pilots are the best ambassadors for aviation. And increasingly those volunteer pilots are former Young Eagles, according to O’Lena.
“Many of our former Young Eagles are now Young Eagles pilots paying it forward,” he said. “It’s gratifying to see young people who discovered aviation through Young Eagles returning to the program to share their experience with today’s young people.”
Many are like Bradley Bormuth of Morgantown, N.C., who went on an Young Eagles flight on Sept. 2, 1995, when he was just 8. Earlier this year, Bormuth gave young Jeremiah Ford his first flight in the Bormuth family’s Cessna 172, marking his 500th Young Eagles flight.
Of course, volunteer pilots do not have to have been Young Eagles to inspire a love of flight. “We have thousands of great volunteers who make the program the success it is,” O’Lena said.
A few years ago, EAA officials realized there needed to be some kind of follow up to that first flight. It teamed with Sporty‘s to offer a free Sporty’s Learn to Fly Course to all Young Eagles in what has grown to be called the Young Eagles Flight Plan. Besides the free course, Young Eagles also receive a free EAA student membership, a free first flight lesson, reimbursement for passing the FAA knowledge exam, and the opportunity to apply for flight training scholarships. More than 18,000 kids have participated in the Sporty’s program, according to O’Lena.
“Each week we hear of more success stories of students becoming pilots,” he said. “We have confirmed more than 18,000 former Young Eagles who have earned various aviation certificates, from private pilots to air traffic controllers. Young Eagles are now in every collegiate aviation program in the country, as well as in all U.S. military academy flight programs.”
So what’s next? “Our goal is to continue to grow the Young Eagles Flight Plan by increasing participation in the Sporty’s program and growing our flight training scholarships,” he says. “It’s all about increasing the pilot population and growing participation in aviation.”
For more information: YoungEagles.org