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No fares, just fun on flights for kids

On Saturday, the Young Eagles program will offer free airplane rides to youngsters at the Clearwater Airpark.

Published January 7, 2005

CLEARWATER - He's climbed Mount Everest and Mount Kilimanjaro, bicycled 2,000 miles through China, gone white-water rafting in Costa Rica and been on safari in Africa.

But Peter Hunt said his biggest thrill is soaring like a bird in the wild blue yonder. Currently, he is building a plane of his own - in the middle of his Island Estates living room, which overlooks Clearwater Harbor.

"It's a great place to build. It's air-conditioned, I don't have to travel back and forth, and I can work on it right here, day or night," he said, surveying the wingless, 20-foot-long aluminum labor of love.

At 64, the former industrial management consultant has finally found the time to pursue his love of aviation. And, as president of local Chapter 282 of the Experimental Aircraft Association, he hopes that members of the younger generation don't have to wait until their golden years to do the same.

On Saturday, youngsters from ages 7 to 17 will have an opportunity to experience the joy of flight at the Clearwater Airpark as part of the national EAA's Young Eagles program, which has provided more than 1-million free, introductory flights to young people since 1992.

The flights will begin at 9 a.m. and run until about 1 p.m. Five to seven licensed pilots will volunteer their time, fuel and planes for the event. All planes - two and four-seaters - have been inspected and certified by Federal Aviation Administration personnel, officials said.

Hunt will not be piloting his custom-made plane; it won't be completed for another three months. Instead, he will be flipping pancakes for the event's breakfast, which begins at 8 a.m.

He said the pilots might take some youngsters under their wing and teach them how to turn, climb or descend.

"It will be up to the pilot to determine the maturity and interest of the youngster," Hunt said. Pilots will still have ultimate control of the planes.

The flights will be about five to 15 minutes long and give participants an eagle's eye view of Clearwater and the beaches from an altitude of about 1,500 feet.

Participants will become registered Young Eagle members and have their names listed in the world's largest logbook, on display at the EAA Air Adventure Museum in Oshkosh, Wis.

And they will receive certificates signed by the new chairman of the EAA Young Eagles program, pilot and actor Harrison Ford. The signatures will be mechanical reproductions of Ford's signature.

Ron Streicher, the event organizer and chapter vice president, encourages participants to come early, as flights will be given on a first-come, first-served basis.

"Last year, we had to turn away some of the children, and we felt really bad," he said.

Hunt said he wishes a program like the Young Eagles had been in place when he was a child. He received his pilot's license seven years ago and for the past four years has been working on the RV-6, a two-seater airplane that can reach speeds of 210 mph, climb to 25,700 feet and fly 950 miles on a tank of gas.

"This plane is going to lead to many different travel opportunities," he said. "It is designed to fly across the country and around the world."

The lifelong bachelor stores the body of the plane in the living room of his 5,000-square-foot home. (He has removed the carpet so as not to lose rivets and metal shavings.) The wings and fuel tanks are in the dining room, the propeller in the family room and the tail section, flaps and leather seats in a bedroom. Design plans cover the walls, and several drawing tables are cluttered with blueprints and tools of the trade.

He estimates that he spends about 25 hours every week on the plane, which so far has cost about $120,000. He will complete the final wing assembly at the South Lakeland Airport, where it will undergo testing and inspection by FAA personnel.

Hunt hopes many of the children flying Saturday will be inspired to pursue aviation as a career or for recreation.

"I hope it will spark an interest," he said. "Flying allows you to separate from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. It's exciting and technically challenging but also a great way to relax."


The Young Eagles program will offer free airplane rides to young people, ages 7 to 17, Saturday at the Clearwater Airpark, 1000 N Hercules Ave. A pancake breakfast ($5 per person) will begin at 8 a.m. Flights will begin at 9 a.m. and run until about 1 p.m. Early arrival is recommended, as flights will be given on a first-come, first-served basis. All participants must be accompanied by a parent or adult guardian who must sign a consent form. The program is designed to handle about 160 youngsters.

[Last modified January 7, 2005, 12:13:13]

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