GREENVILLE — Now in its eighth year at the Greenville Municipal Airport, the Young Eagles I Can Fly event puts children in the seat of a private aircraft to show them exactly what it’s like to fly.
Put on by the Greenville Area Aviation Association (GAAA), Saturday’s event will pair any children ages 8 to 17 interested in a flight with an experienced pilot, who will take to the skies to give a first-hand look at aviation.
“We try to show our passion for flight and give kids a chance to experience the same thing,” said Kris Kropf, event director. “It gives them a great experience of general flight.”
Registration begins Saturday at 8 a.m. at the airport and flights will begin at 8:30 a.m. and run until 1 p.m. There is no cost for the flights, which last between 20 and 25 minutes.
“They will be introduced to a pilot, who will give them a five-minute walk around of the plane, explaining the basics,” Kropf said.
Once in the sky, pilots will fly about five minutes in each direction, detailing to the “flight students” the basics of flying and the science behind it.
“It gives them a rough idea of what flight is,” Kropf said.
Nine pilots from places like Greenville, Cedar Springs, Belding and Lowell will be conducting the flights all day, including the GAAA’s first female pilot, Dr. Tammie Brodie.
“I like seeing that first experience, like when a 2-year-old goes outside and sees the bumble bee on the flower for the first time. That is amazing,” she said.
Now she will have a chance to see the children’s reactions to their first flight.
“The first time you take these kids up flying and they’ve never been flying before, it’s phenomenal,” she said.
The GAAA has been providing first flights for seven years and participation has steadily increased since the event’s inception.
In 2007, the I Can Fly event’s first year, 37 students experienced flight for the first time. Last year, the event set a record number of flights with 181 students.
Kropf hopes this year the event will reach its 1,000th flight, which will come if 130 children take part Saturday.
And not only are more children interested in aviation, but more and more females are signing up.
“It used to be dominated by boys, but in the past three years there have been just as many girls,” Kropf said. “It’s split right down the middle now.”
Brodie, who herself never considered aviation until just a few years ago, said she was glad to see more children expressing an interest in a field they aren’t normally exposed to.
“Sometimes kids are so sheltered,” she said. “They don’t get to see what is all out there for them. There are lots of things out there to do and it doesn’t have to be a doctor, lawyer, policeman or fireman.”
Anyone interested in signing up for a flight can register at the airport on the day of the event. Registration will run as long as the flights do, which is until 1 p.m.
“Everyone just seems to make it fun and enthusiastic, from the time you come in to the time you leave,” Kropf said. “First and foremost it’s just fun and a nice family atmosphere. No. 2, it’s nice exposure for kids on how important aviation is to the business world and the community.”