Saturday, June 14, 2014

Freeport, Illinois: Pilots take children to the skies

FREEPORT — Eight-year-old Emily Shorter was one of the few children brave enough to admit she was a little nervous heading into her first plane ride at the Freeport Pilot Association’s Young Eagles Rally.

After getting the flight plan and a quick lesson about her aircraft, Emily became one of several dozen children to take to the skies Saturday morning during the annual event at Albertus Airport.

Despite the nerves, Emily was still excited before her first flight, and came back smiling with a keen observation of what her hometown looked like from above.

“It was like it was a tiny town with little toys in it,” she said.

Members of the local pilots association treated children to a free ride in the skies along with a certificate of their achievement and an official log book as part of the Experimental Aircraft Association’s Young Eagles program. The program has given nearly 2 million children the ride of their lives since its inception in 1992. Local pilot Tim Mickel, who has been flying for 46 years, estimates more than 5,000 of his flights have been in Freeport.

“I like exposing the youth to aviation,” Mickel said. “If you look around, a lot of pilots, like me, are a little older, so we need to get youth involved. It helps get people out to the airport and see the good side, the fun side.”

While not all the children at the event have dreams of becoming a pilot, most had similarly high expectations for their flight. Six-year-old Kenadee Schreck went up in a Piper Warrior plane with her sisters Brooklyn, 9, and Aspen, 13. Kenadee was anticipating the trip “because I get to sit up front on the plane and go really high.”

The 20-minute ride took passengers on an aerial tour of town, southwest toward Route 26, north across Freeport, over to the bypass and back to airport.

“We saw everything,” Aspen said. “I saw my house, we saw the whole town; it was pretty cool”

The experience was one the Schreck sisters won’t soon forget. That’s exactly why their father, Mark Schreck, made sure the family was first in line Saturday morning.

“Not everybody gets to go up in a plane, it’s a different perspective and you usually only see it on TV,” Mark said. “They get a firsthand experience and hopefully they’ll make memories that will last for a lifetime.”

Even Airport Manager Darrell Janssen hung out at the event, taking advantage of the sunny skies, moderate temperatures and slight breeze in a perfect day to fly.

“Anything at the airport to let the local public know we have an airport and we have a use for it is a good thing,” Janssen said. “The kids love it, they come back with big smiles and just enjoy it so it’s a great program.”

Nearly all the rides ended the same way, with smiling children exiting the plane, excited to share the story with their parents. At the end of her journey, Brooklyn Schreck shouted words to her father everyone was glad to hear.

“I’m not dead!” she yelled with a smile.

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