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Fly like an eagle

by Darlene J. Taylor

STAFF WRITER

A group of children, one in the pilot's seat, listened in awe as Master Sgt. Tim Wilhelm of the Civil Air Patrol explained the complex controls in the cockpit of a single-engine airplane.

The 16-year-old Wilhelm, who already has about 15 hours flying experience, joined the Civil Air Patrol cadet program to learn more about aircraft and "to help me get my pilot's license."

That's exactly what other children were doing at the Harrison-Marion Regional Airport Sunday afternoon -- learning firsthand about flying.

The Experimental Aircraft Association sponsored its second annual Young Eagle Day for children 7-17 years old.

"We want to introduce youth to aviation," said Ross White, chairman of the event and member of the Fairmont Chapter of EAA, who said the goal of the program is to fly 1 million children by 2003.

"To date, we have flown over 800,000 kids," he said while youngsters climbed into the cockpit of another plane.

"It was kind of scary," said 7-year-old Julia Kiley of Clarksburg, who was grinning from ear to ear.

Her 8-year-old sister, Valerie, added that she enjoys flying. "I may fly a plane when I get older."

Shinnston resident Micky Winkler, 8, said the best part was flying over water.

Zachary Hillegas, 13, of Bridgeport added an older child's perspective.

"It is quite a different experience. It is the first time I've flown in anything less than a 727," sad Hillegas, who said he would prefer to fly the smaller plane but commuter flying was better in a big jet.

All of the pilots donate their time and planes for the event. Harry Nehrig, retired Air Force air traffic controller, was also on hand lending his expertise.

"Aviation and kids are my two favorite things," said Nehrig.

Dale Kennedy, Fairmont pilot and member of the Fairmont Chapter of EAA, touted the free program.

"It's totally free. There is no pre-registration. Parents just need to sign a release, and the kids get a plane ride, a certificate and a magazine," said Kennedy, whose wife is also a pilot.

The Kennedys bought a 1976 Cessna 182 4-seater in 1984, which they use for vacation travel and pleasure, as well as education.

Lt. Col. Rodney A. Moore of the Civil Air Patrol was supervising the ground school training. He said this type of program is very important to young people.

"Most people interested in aviation develop the interest at an early age," said Moore, who enjoys cadet orientation.

"It is very satisfying. You can see the thrill of it in their eyes. It is the first time some of them have ever flown," said Moore, who has been with the Civil Air Patrol for 33 years.

Will Dean, a member of the Civil Air Patrol Clarksburg Composite Squadron, was assisting with registration and making sure the "Young Eagles" received their official certificates signed by their pilot and Chuck Yeager, honorary chairman of the program.

"I joined to learn to fly," said it all.

Staff writer Darlene Taylor can be reached at 626-1442 or by e-mail at dtaylor@exponent-telegram.com.

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