The skies over Pinehurst were crowded on a recent Saturday as nine local pilots flew 181 young people on aerial tours of Moore County.
For most of the youngsters, the experience was their first airplane ride. Sponsored by Chapter No. 1220 of the Experimental Aircraft Association, based out of the Carthage Airport, the annual event is called the "Young Eagles Fly-in."
"Flying is a wonderful sport and possibly a gateway to a great career, and our community is privileged to have this airport," says Roland Gilliam, chapter president. "The goal of the Young Eagles program is to introduce kids to the fun and excitement of flying, engineering, meteorology or some other aspect of the aerospace industry."
Twice each year the chapter sponsors a Young Eagle event at Moore County Airport, and during the year it arranges smaller flying events in other counties. Because of the size of the Moore County event, the logistics are formidable and several community organizations contribute to the success of the program.
The E.A.A. chapter offers overall management; the Pinecrest High School Junior A.F.R.O.T.C. program staffs the welcome desk and handles the paperwork that matches passengers to pilots; the individual flyers donate their time and the airplanes; the Airport Authority contributes the fuel, and Boy Scout Troop No. 810 provides burgers and hot dogs for lunch.
"We typically get 100 kids per event,"says Jim Murray, Young Eagles project coordinator. "We've never had this sort of turn-out before. To fly 181 youngsters is a huge success, and shows the interest and enthusiasm young people have for the adventure of flying."
"It's exhilarating but exhausting!" says Colin Webster, one of the volunteer pilots who flies a sleek and speedy Mooney airplane. "Once the kids are on the plane, I try to explain some of the technology of flying, and everybody wants to do some sight-seeing, plus we have to stay clear of all the other airplanes in the sky and get back to the airport with a perfect landing. After doing that eight, ten or twelve times in one hot day you're pretty much wrung out."
"The kids are the best part of the day," Murray says in agreement. Murray flies an "experimental" airplane that carries only one passenger and flies best with the doors wide open.
"They all comment on the swimming pools they see, and the size of the forests that surround Moore County," he says.
Gilliam, who has been flying for 53 years, had the extra treat of flying his grandson, Hank McKenzie of Lansing, as his 100th Young Eagle passenger that Saturday.
"Ninety-five of those passengers got their rides in my two-seat Champ," he says. "It takes a long time to fly 95 people, one by one."
He knows of at least one of those youngsters who now flies for a major airline.
The other pilots feel the most popular sightseeing destinations are Pinecrest High School, Walmart and McDonald's.
"There's something about spotting the red roof on Pizza Hut in Aberdeen that gets everybody excited," says Webster.
The volunteer pilots were: Ken Thompson, who flew 12 children in his Piper Apache; Barbara Para flew two in her Arrow; Colin Webster flew 23 in his Mooney; Mike Jones flew 26 in his Cessna; Bill Rigsby flew 32 in his Cessna; Bob Carpenter flew 52 kids in his six-seat Bonanza; Bob Preddy flew 14 kids in his two-seat Alegro; Roland Gilliam flew eight in his Mooney, and Jim Murray flew 12 in his experimental Zenith.
More details are available at the Young Eagle Web site www.youngeagles.org.