BUCKHANNON — Eight-year-old Hunter James Lang wore his lucky shoes Saturday.
After all, it’s not every day you get to soar through a swirl of white clouds and blue ski to experience your first ride in an airplane.
Excited, but nervous, Hunter was one of more than 300 kids who gathered at the Upshur County Regional Airport Saturday for Young Eagles Day, a special program put on by the Experimental Aircraft Association.
“I wore my lucky shoes today so we won’t crash,” Hunter said. “I’ve never been up in an airplane before.”
Giving children and teens ages 8 to 17 the opportunity to experience a 20-minute flight, free of charge, is exactly what the Young Eagles program aims to do, said Young Eagles coordinator Richard Judy.
“The EAA started this in 1992 as a way to give free airplane rides to kids in the hope that it will promote careers in aviation, like mechanics, pilots, air traffic controllers,” Judy said. “There’s a major shortage of pilots in the industry right now, and so we’re trying to inspire these kids to maybe one day go into the field.”
Lasting from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Judy had arranged for seven planes and seven volunteer pilots from Waynesburg, Pa., Connellsville, Pa., Elkins and Fairmont to land in Upshur County for the event.
Bruce Dawson, another member of EAA on hand, said seeing kids’ reactions when they land is very rewarding.
“Most of them are excited, but a little nervous before they go up, but when they come down they’re all smiles,” Dawson said. “It makes it worth doing.”
Bryson Cochran, 11, couldn’t wait to take flight, but he was in awe of just how high he would be in the air.
“Wow, we’re going to be about 3,000 feet up in the air,” Bryson said.
Twenty minutes later after deplaning under the direction of volunteer Fred Fahling, Bryson had only one word to describe the experience — “Awesome!” he exclaimed.
Young Eagles Day is held annually and gives plane rides to children and teens on a first-come, first-served basis. To learn more about the program, visit www.eaa.org.