Floating over the clouds and snow-capped Sierra Nevada mountains at 8,000 feet above the ground, anything seems possible. Truckee’s Young Eagles organization hopes that giving kids the experience of flying in a small airplane will inspire them to follow their dreams.
The Young Eagles program is part of the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA), and includes members with a wide range of aviation interests and backgrounds all dedicated to preserving flying of any kind. Tom Meadows, of Truckee, has been taking kids up in the sky since 1998 with the Young Eagles. In October 2014, he was awarded by the program for taking 1,000 kids on flights. To date, more than 1.8 million Young Eagles nationally have participated in the free program since its launch in 1992.
Through the Young Eagles, children 8 to 17 years old get to fly in a variety of aircraft owned by volunteer pilots. Young Eagle flights take off after the EAA Chapter 1073 monthly pancake breakfast and the day after the Truckee-Tahoe AirShow in July.
“What we are doing is introducing young people to aviation. If you come to the pancake breakfast you will see a lot of grey hair,” Meadows said. “If we can light a spark in young people’s eyes, we are doing aviation a favor for tomorrow’s pilots.”
Meadows grew up fascinated by watching planes fly over his home near the Wright-Patterson Airforce Base in Ohio, where his dad was a technical sergeant for the U.S. Air Force. On days when there was no school, Meadows spent his time in the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force.
After high school Meadows joined the Navy, and after 22 years of service he got his pilot certificate in 1980. His wife, Lynn, whose father flew a P-40 Warhawk fighter plane in WWII, has had her pilot certificate since 1978.
Tom enjoys taking the kids up and flying them over their houses. In all his years with the Young Eagles, only one child had a difficult time and panicked from not having his feet on the ground.
Tom spends 15 minutes with the children going over parts of the plane before each flight. Each child then experiences sitting behind the controls in the pilot seat. If they can reach the rudder, they get to steer the plane while on the ground. Once in the air, Tom will allow them to “fly” the plane, although there are controls on both the right and left side. Sometimes during the flight the kids forget they are flying and end up just staring out the window, Tom said.
Tai Hackett, 11, took his first flight in a small plane last June with Tom. “I found that I enjoyed flying so much that my goal is to get my pilot’s license before I get my driver’s license,” he said.
Tom, along with the 15 other pilots that participate in the program, enjoys giving children this unique experience and passing along the joy of flying a plane.
“We get to see kids when they get out of the airplane — their expressions are priceless,” Tom said.