The Liberty Gazette
March 22, 2011
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely
Linda: We’re gearing up for another Young Eagles event, this time at the Pearland Regional Airport, 9 a.m., March 26th. The Young Eagles program was a vision of Tom Poberezny to introduce youngsters to aviation. Tom is the former president of the Experimental Aircraft Association and son of Paul Poberezny, the association’s founder. It’s truly amazing how many people, after discovering a passion for aviation, say they never considered it before. Aviation advocates have been scratching our collective heads for years trying to figure out why this is.
Why has the pilot population decreased when the reliance on air services has never been greater? In an age where we demand quick results, shipping products, transporting people, and performing aerial services, such as crop dusting, aerial surveying, photography, law enforcement and emergency response, movement by air is the best mankind has to offer right now.
Nineteen years ago Tom Poberezny flew the first Young Eagles. It was during the annual AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. The goal then seemed unattainable to some nay-sayers, but Tom believed the aviation community could do it: fly a million youngsters by December 17, 2003, the 100th anniversary of the first flight by the Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk.
That goal wasn’t just reached, it was surpassed. How it happened, and what lies ahead, appear in Tom’s recent commentary, “Brace for Impact” (Sport Aviation, March, 2011) – his title taken from the phrase made famous by Captain Sullenburger, who now co-chairs the EAA’s Young Eagles Program with his co-pilot, Jeffrey Skiles. They took over the reins from pilot/actor Harrison Ford in 2009, after their successful Hudson River landing.
Poberezny wrote that “there are thousands of people who have the soul of an aviator…but who have not yet discovered flying personally.” Survey responses by tens of thousands of pilots echoed “we want others to experience this.” The soul of an aviator. I like that.
Mike: The astounding statistics of Young Eagles speak of that soul; the program’s incredible success is evidence of doors waiting to be opened, that personal discovery of flight would stir the soul.
Now, 1.6 million Young Eagles flown by 43,000 pilots have their names entered in the World’s Largest Logbook.
The EAA teamed up with the FAA to compare notes. Now that the oldest Young Eagle would be 35, how many have earned a pilot license? The results in Tom’s report are encouraging: “Young people ages 15-24 who have participated in Young Eagles are 5.4 times more likely to obtain a pilot certificate than those who have not had such introductory flight.” What’s more, the aviation industry has gained flight instructors, aircraft mechanics, and air traffic controllers who were Young Eagles.
These are the results envisioned, but one surprise will likely lead to a few changes in the program. The focus has been to take youngsters for their first flight, repeat flights being optional. Now that we know that the more often a Young Eagle flies, the greater the chance he or she will become a pilot, repeat flights will be encouraged. Young Eagles will still be open to participants as young as 8 years old, but the information emerging identifies the 13 to 17 age group as the most likely to take to the skies.
Somewhere deep down, Poberezny knew he was right – that someday the proof would be “an example of the can-do spirit” at the core of the aviator’s soul.