by Jennifer Lavallee
Morinville News Correspondent
A local chapter of a youth aviation club called the EAA Young Eagles Program is holding a ‘Kids Fly Free Rally’ at the Villeneuve Airport on Aug. 26. The event, planned for children aged eight to 17-years-old, is meant to help spark an interest in flying; in some cases, this event gives kids the chance to go on their very first airplane ride.
“Flying means so many different things to different people, it is difficult to define what the incredible appeal is for each kid that experiences it,” said Robert Whitley, who is a pilot with 40 plus years of experience and is a representative of the Edmonton Chapter of the EAA Young Eagles Program. At the end of the day, the point is to get kids excited about airplanes.
Whitley explained that the event, which used to always be planned at the Edmonton Municipal Airport (also knowns as City Centre Airport), had been ongoing every year for almost ten years. With the closure of that airport in 2013, organizers were forced to search out a new venue—the Villeneuve Airport, located in Sturgeon County, fit just right.
In their first year at the Villeneuve Airport, in 2016, the Rally was put on by a group called COPA FOR KIDS (another youth-focused aviation program); that event was a success with about 300 kids registering to claim a flight. To share the responsibility of organizing the annual event, this year the EAA Young Eagles took over.
“…To somewhat relieve the organization’s volunteer workload, it was decided [the two groups would] host the event on an alternating basis between [Young Eagles] and COPA FOR KIDS,” said Whitley, who also acts as the Vice-President for COPA.
The Young Eagles will accommodate 200 junior flyers this year, so to keep the activities manageable for volunteers; they also say they are currently on the hunt for local sponsorship opportunities as well.
Eldon Gjesdal, business owner of Energy Efficient Homes Canda at the Villeneuve Airport (who also builds hangars there), said in an interview that exciting events—on a large scale and small—are continuously going on at the airport.
Earlier this month, Country Singer George Canyon performed for kids with type-1 diabetes at one of Gjesdal’s hangars as part of an event organized by the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF). The Edmonton Airshow, a major event in the region that includes 16 different aircraft performances, including the Snow Birds, is scheduled there on August 19 and 20.
The Young Eagles is an international program founded and operated by the Experimental Aircraft Association (the world’s largest sport aviation organization) in 1992. This year marks the Young Eagles’ 25th Anniversary; the group estimates its given out two million flights, at no cost, to kids world-wide since first forming.
In addition to events such as the Rally on Aug. 26, the Young Eagles program also organizes flights for kids on an individual basis by pilots who donate their time and the use of their aircraft.
“The one almost universal result [of flying these kids] is a delighted smile on their faces during and after the flight. It is a very gratifying experience for the pilots to see the look of wonderment at the beginning of the flight transform into joy and developing curiosity,” said Whitley, who said that he, personally, has given out over about 1,000 “first flights” to kids over his years as a pilot, some of whom have gone on to become pilots themselves, including in the military and airline pilots.
For more information about the Young Eagles Program, please visit their website at 30.eaachapter.com.