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  • The Express

Young Eagle program could spark a lifelong love of the air


Abe, age 5, is not old enough to become a Young Eagle yet, but he did get to sit in the cockpit of a Maule M-5. Pilot Randy Kilmer shows him some fine points of the instrumentation
Abe, age 5, is not old enough to become a Young Eagle yet, but he did get to sit in the cockpit of a Maule M-5. Pilot Randy Kilmer shows him some fine points of the instrumentation. 📷: WENDY DOHERTY/FOR THE EXPRESS

LOCK HAVEN — Imagine taking off in a four-seater plane for the very first time. Where is the door? What kind of seats are these? Can I fly the plane? Your stomach feels the way it does at the start of a roller-coaster ride, doesn’t it?

Now imagine that you are 8 years old.

You’d get a real kick out of the experience, no doubt.

Pilots get a kick out of it, too. They want to share their love for flying, and one way they can is to take kids and teens up into the wild blue yonder for the very first time. These fun, free flights for youth ages 8 through 17 were offered Saturday at the Sentimental Journey to Cub Haven Fly-In, through the nationwide Young Eagles program.

The registration table in front of Piper Aviation Museum was swamped at 10 a.m., but once families were signed in, a number of small planes, plus a helicopter, started taking new Young Eagles on their first flights.

The thrill of flying can hook you, and pilots like to reminisce about the moment they knew they would spend as much of their lives as possible in the air. Moments like that often take place during an earth-bound human’s first experience in the sky, particularly in a small plane.

Years from now, will Melanie Saunders be one of these pilots?

Melanie, age 11, and her sister, Violet, age 8, had their first such adventure in a special plane, the museum’s PA-22 Tri-Pacer, a fabric plane built right here in the mid 50s. The pilot, Eric Cipcic, Is one of only two people allowed to fly this historic aircraft, which is in fabulous condition for its age. He told his young passengers and their parents that Phil Hoy donated the Tri-Pacer to the museum so it could be used for Young Eagles flights.

Cipcic is a flight instructor, a commercial pilot, and more. He said, “I’ve been doing this for 40 years, can you believe it?”

He also works at UPMC in Williamsport. Violet and Melanie’s mother, Megan, knows Eric through work, saw a Young Eagles poster he’d put up, and thought it would be fun for her daughters. She and husband Josh brought the girls to the museum building Saturday, and Eric invited Megan to ride along as his personal guest.

Young Melanie had the co-pilot seat for their adventure.

Cipcic executed the take-off but flew only briefly before handing the controls over to her, and Melanie followed the flight pattern for most of their ride. In the end, she turned the plane toward the runway and Cipcic landed it without a hitch.

Back on the ground, his first words were, “She’s a natural. She needs to be a pilot!”

Melanie simply said, “l got to fly it!”

“Mom was a little terrified in the back,” Megan added with a smile.

Violet wasn’t. She said matter-of-factly that she saw buildings, houses, pools as they flew over the river and town.

“I liked it when we went up and down,” she said.

Each young eagle received mementos of the day, including a personal log book for their time in the air.

The Young Eagles program is sponsored by EAA (Experimental Aircraft Association) and has reached more than 1 million kids across the country, said Steve Dershimer.

“I’ve taken well over 100 kids up over the years,” he said.

Commercial pilot Randy Kilmer of the Bellefonte area flew kids in a Maule M-5, 235 (horsepower). His T- shirt said it all: “Life is simple — eat, sleep, fly.”

Kilmer flies a Pilates PC-12 commercially, a plane that can take eight passengers.

“I love it,” he said. “I’ve been flying over 50 years.”

His Young Eagles of the day included two 8-year-old girls, Ave and Sylvia.

Ave’s family lives on East Bald Eagle Street, not far from the airport, so it’s natural that the kids take an interest in all things related to planes.

Ave’s mother, Ali, said they watch planes fly over their house from their backyard pool, especially during Sentimental Journey. They took special note of a pink plane, The Pink Panther, and went to the airport to got a closer look at the small aircraft that had been delighting local residents Tuesday through Saturday.

Pictured: Melanie, age 11 with Pilot Eric Cipcic, CRNA, PHRN, MSN. Photo by WENDY DOHERTY/FOR THE EXPRESS
Pictured: Melanie, age 11 with Pilot Eric Cipcic, CRNA, PHRN, MSN 📷: WENDY DOHERTY/FOR THE EXPRESS

“We come down every year during the Fly-In,” Ali said. “This year we saw a sign for the Young Eagles flights.”

Allie and husband Jim have three other children, including two who were busy living their teenage lives on Saturday and missed out on the free flight. Their youngest is Abram, age 5.

Ave went up with her friend Sylvia, of Castanea.

“It was cool,” Ave said. “You got to twist around and fly really high in the air.”

“The (air) hills tickled our bellies!” Sylvia said.

Sylvia’s younger brother, Ben, age 4, waited on the grass with his friend Abe. The boys were not happy that they were too young and had to be on the ground instead of in the air. Kilmer let them sit in his plane instead, and their mothers had a trip to the candy store planned as a consolation prize.

Still, the boys were a bit downcast about the unfairness of always being younger brothers.

Three years from now, though, look for them to get their own Young Eagles log books and have their own amazing experience in a small plane while getting a birds-eye view of their towns.

Perhaps one or both of them will be bit by the flying bug, and nothing will look quite the same.


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