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Fledglings take to the sky

The Experimental Aircraft Association pairs pilots with students ages 8 to 17 for a 25-minute flight.

By CARRIE PRATT

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 12, 2000


Williams, a small-plane enthusiast had just finished taking James Luce, 17, of New Port Richey on his first private flight high above Pasco County.

The 25-minute ride was part of Young Eagle Flights, a program of the Experimental Aircraft Association that pairs pilots with students ages 8 to 17 and takes them for a ride.

Williams, who is a nationally syndicated radio talk show host, has been flying for 50 years. While sharing the experience of flying with James, Williams points out the climb speed has reached 80 mph and the plane is at 800 feet. Meanwhile, James is looking down, watching for landmarks, and recognizes a swimming pool at a friend's house.

After graduating from high school, James plans to join the Air Force and become a test pilot. He and his father read about the event in a local newspaper and decided it would be good opportunity to see what flying was like. Young Eagle Flights was designed by the Experimental Aviation Association to promote aviation as a career or as recreation, and was hosted by Chapter 791 of Hidden Lake with 11 pilots from Pasco, Pinellas and Hernando donating their time and use of their aircraft.

About 95 students took part in the program Saturday and flew in planes such as Cessnas, Pipers, Europas, and a variety of other small aircraft.

Wearing adult-size aviation sunglasses, a camouflage hat, a fading T-shirt with a plane on the front, and dog tags given to him by his father, Robert M. Draft, 9, of Hudson, climbed out of a Cessna, shook the hand of pilot William Maytum, hopped twice, and ran to his parents who were waiting in a nearby wing.

"I did it, I did it," said Robert, who had just flown in an aircraft for the first time. With dreams of becoming a fighter pilot, Robert reflected on his first experience.

"It was quite an amazing thing," he said.

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