Scouts take to the skies with Young Eagles program

The air was busy over the Skaneateles Aerodrome on Benson Road last Saturday, June 4, as almost 100 area scouts went flying, courtesy of the Young Eagles flight program. Nine volunteer pilots offered their time, aviation fuel and planes and a seat to any scout wanting to go up and see CNY from the air. All at no charge.

"This program, the Young Eagles, was started in 1992," said pilot Jack Haggarty of Skaneateles, and organizer of the event. "The idea was to give kids a feeling of what it's like to fly and possibly kindle an interest in becoming flyers themselves."

The program is sponsored by the Experimental Aircraft Association, an international aviation membership association founded in 1953 and headquartered in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Haggerty and the other pilots are members of EEA chapter 107 in Marcellus.

While the Young Eagles program is offered to any interested young people ages 8 to 17, the event this year in Skaneateles was a great way for Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts to earn their Aviation Merit Badge. Most of the scouts attending were from troops in East Syracuse and Baldwinsville.

"The [Young] Eagles program was designed for kids," said pilot Mike Laurin of Kirkville. "What better combination then getting scouts and this program together?"

Laurin had one of the most popular planes in the field - an open twin cockpit 1930 Fleet bi-plane made in Buffalo, NY.

Scouts who took off in the 81-year-old, two-winged antique sported a look of apprehension behind oversized goggles. Upon returning to earth, apprehension was replaced by huge smiles, and the phrase, 'Please, can we do that again?' could be heard constantly repeated all over the airfield.

The original goal of the Young Eagles program was to fly one million kids by the year 2003 in honor of the anniversary of the Wright brothers' first flight, according to Haggerty. "But it was so popular they passed the mark awhile ago," he added.

According to the program website, youngeagles.org, more than 1.6 million Young Eagles have flown in the past 19 years.

As the planes took off and landed at the Aerodrome last Saturday, and certificates of flight achievement were awarded, Haggarty's plane, a 1940 Piper J5-A, made a smooth landing and taxied to the grassy area next to the airstrip. Haggarty shut the engine down, got out of the cockpit and helped Matt Harrison, a scout from Baldwinsville, out from the seat behind him.

Harrison had the honor of being Haggarty's 500th Young Eagle passenger.

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