Young Eagles Record First Commercial Flight

The Young Eagles Program has already flown more than 750,000 young people, primarily in general aviation airplanes.

Air Line Pilot, January/February 2002, p. 22
By Chris Dodd, Staff Writer

The Young Eagles Program got a lift last fall—quite fittingly—from a pair of American Eagle pilots. American Eagle First Officer Julie Savage arranged for student Laura Lawrence to take a unique follow-up to her Young Eagles flight in a commercial airplane on Nov. 1, 2001. She flew right seat on the O’Hare-to-Cleveland flight with another fellow ALPA member, Capt. Stan Collins, who jumpseated from his home in Smyrna, Tenn., on his day off to help a young aviation enthusiast realize a dream.

Many ALPA members are familiar with the Experimental Aircraft Association through its enormously popular fly-in AirVenture air show conducted annually at Oshkosh (see "Accidental Historian Goes to Oshkosh," page 26).

In addition, the EAA Aviation Foundation in 1992 established Young Eagles to let young persons ages 8–17 experience the "rush" of flying, many of them for the first time. The Young Eagles program has already flown more than 750,00 young people, primarily in general aviation airplanes.

F/O Savage, 22, related quite well to that experience. Though she grew up with the airlines (her dad, Michael, is a lead mechanic for United ), she had a lot of curiosity about the Piper Cherokees and Cessnas that buzzed like so many motorized mosquitoes around Lake in the Hills Airport in northern Illinois.

In the mid-1990s, she found few local aviation clubs that included young people, so she joined a local Civil Air Patrol chapter. There, Abbie Friddell, a local woman active in Young Eagles, mentored the young woman and offered to take her for one of the program’s flights in Friddell’s Piper Cherokee in November 1995.

"The second I got my hands on the controls, that was it for me," F/O Savage laughs. Friddell and another EAA member, Ron Liebmann, had invited the aspiring pilot to a meeting of Young Eagle Chapter 790 in Carey, Ill., near F/O Savage’s home town of Schaumburg. "They quickly became family," F/O Savage says, recalling that through that exposure, "I found the opportunity to explore and discover what aviation might hold for me."

She enrolled in Southern Illinois University’s flight program and soared, taking top female pilot in the nation honors from the National Safecon Competition in 1999. She hired on at American Eagle at the age of 20 and continues to be active in EAA, currently serving as youth director on the EAA Foundation Board.

At a Chapter 790 meeting in April 2001, F/O Savage was introduced to Laura Lawrence, an enthusiastic 17-year-old who "reminded me of myself at that age." Laura took her Young Eagles flight in a Cessna in the summer of 2001 and was "hooked on aviation."

Recognizing a spark, F/O Savage offered to sponsor Laura in the American Airlines/American Eagle Mentor Program.

Being in the cockpit of a private plane could give a taste of aviation, but flying on a scheduled line flight could move the experience "to a new level," F/O Savage says. "I wanted to give Laura the opportunity to see what being an airline pilot is like—if only for one day."

American Eagle donated the roundtrip ticket and arranged for F/O Savage to escort Laura "behind the scenes" for the pre- and post-flight activities. Laura visited flight operations, got to analyze weather radar, look at the bidding process, meet Chief Pilot Ed Simon, and help F/O Savage perform the preflight inspection on the Embraer ERJ 145.

Where required, an airline manager escorted the pair to "make sure everything was legal and comply with security procedures," F/O Savage adds. (Ironically, that Nov. 1, 2001, jet flight was her last for the time being, as she was displaced to the Saab 340 following furloughs at Eagle.)

Steve Buss, Young Eagles’ executive director, says the restrictions imposed on private aircraft since September 11 have presented only "a temporary setback" to the flying program. The public perception of aviation was affected by those events, he notes, "and that’s to be expected. Every time an airline accident is reported, we see a temporary decline in Young Eagle flights in that geographical area.

"But we’re back in business," he says, and the program is "well on its way" to reaching its goal of 1 million Young Eagles by Dec. 17, 2003, the 100th anniversary of the Wright brothers’ first flight. By Nov. 1, 2001, the program had registered 750,000 Young Eagles flights, which are recorded in the "World’s Largest Logbook" on permanent display at the EAA AirVenture Museum in Oshkosh.

Buss says that commercial flights not typically part of the Young Eagles program, but if any ALPA members have the time or inclination to pursue it, "we’d certainly work with them to make it happen."

As for Laura, who was just accepted to Southern Illinois University, the smile on her face is a tipoff she’s glad someone did.

ALPA members who may be interested in the Young Eagle program or in arranging a flight may visit the pro-gram’s website, www.youngeagles. org, or contact the EAA Foundation at 920-426-4800.