Short Final: First Flights


I enjoy flying kids as part of the EAA “Young Eagles” program. Last year, I had a particularly hilarious day:

Two sisters were in the back seat and their brother was in the front. I always let the front seater fly the plane for a bit. When sister #1 realizes this, she says:

“He’s flying the plane! He’s going to kill us all!”

I say calmly, “He won’t kill us, I can take control if he has trouble.”

“He’s going to kill me!!!”

“If he kills you, can I have your stuff?” I ask.

“No! You can’t have my stuff!”

Sister #2: “Can I have your stuff?”


On another flight, after we get out and are walking back to the hangar:

Me: “It’s at this stage that you would normally kiss the ground to give thanks that you survived.”

Little girl: “Birds poop on the ground”

Me: “Ah. Good point.”

Don Poitras

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  1. There’s nothing like the squeal of enjoyment from a young person on their first YE flight. It just makes my year!

  2. My first flight as a student was on a young eagles day. I wasn’t in the young eagles, but had to deal with them and a very busy airport. Since it was so busy, my instructor was yelling at me to get going. Not a good sign when it’s your first time in the left seat. Needless to say I found another instructor at a different airport.

  3. I flew Young Eagles from the very beginning of the program; I was a little shy of 1000 kids when I had to stop.

    In a mixed-gender group of three kids, I would always put the boys in the back and a girl in the right seat of my 172. After trimming, and distracting them by pointing out landmarks, I’d drop my hands to my lap and tell the young lady, “You have the controls. Where do you want to go now?” It often took some cajoling, but meanwhile we were serenely flying along without anyone’s hands on the yoke. (Yes, I surreptitiously leveled the wings with rudder.) I can count on one hand the number of girls who absolutely refused to do so.

    My reasoning was:
    a. The boys always fought over who got to sit in the front seat, and the girls demurred or were shouted down.
    b. This was a rare opportunity, and girls were less likely to get another one like it.
    c. Girls were far less likely to immediately yank-n-bank the controls than boys trained on video games.
    d. It was more likely to be significant to a girl’s self-esteem than to a boy’s.
    e. She would tell her friends and they would see that it’s not just a “boy thing”.

    While the YE program has shown to help recruitment of women into aviation, my intentions were far more granular: show one girl that she could do something that she’d been told was “just for boys”, or worse, “not ladylike”.

  4. Not a young eagles flight, but years ago while taking some family friends for a sightseeing flight at the coast, I had an 8 year old girl in the copilot’s seat. As she was flying parallel to the beach she asked if the backup AI in front of her was showing what the airplane was doing, I told her yes and then realized she had been flying by it. I was impressed but told her we were VFR and she needed to look outside.