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Children get introduction to the air through Young Eagles program

Cora Hall • Jul 15, 2019 at 9:00 AM

Ryan Venhuizen rode in a single engine airplane for the first time as a 15-year-old at a Young Eagles event and now, 26 years later, he brought his kids for their first experience with the program.

The Experimental Aircraft Association put on its second Young Eagles event of the summer on Saturday. Several pilots flew in to Grand Haven Memorial Airport and gave kids ages 8 to 17 free flights in their airplanes.

The Venhuizen family made the trek from Holland for William, 10, and Adleigh, 9, to get their first taste of aviation up close.

“It’s a chance to come full circle a little bit, see if this is something they’re interested in, either as a hobby or as a living,” Venhuizen said. “(It’s) a chance to share an experience I had, now they get to see what that’s like and they get to experience a different world of flight than just on an airline, which is wonderful, but flying a small airplane is way different and a different experience.”

Venhuizen has been flying for 18 years and spent 13 years in the Air Force. He is now in the Air Force reserves and is a pilot for Southwest Airlines. His experience as a Young Eagle inspired him to become a pilot.

“It was my first time flying in a small airplane…but I remember Ed DeBrian was the name of the pilot. He was a great mentor, a great instructor, he let me fly the airplane for a little while,” Venhuizen said. “(It was) the first time I had been able to be at the controls and I knew pretty much right at that moment that that’s what I wanted to do for my living.”

One of the volunteer pilots was Kurt Knoth, who has been flying for 20 years and has been involved in Young Eagles for four years.

“My uncle inspired me when I was really young and that’s why I have a lot of passion to bring my passion to young people and hopefully later they’ll be pilots,” Knoth said. “It’s important to me because I really have a lot of passion for aviation and getting young people excited about aviation is really important to me and this is a great way to do it and it’s a great way to give back to the community.”

Knoth said through the program he has flown between 60 and 70 kids. He and all the pilots involved volunteer their time and use their own planes and gas but Knoth said he doesn’t care about the money. Flying kids for their first plane ride a lot of the time puts him in his “happy place.”

“I just hope that as they grow up and get older they know that this is something they could do. I just flew with a young lady who’s 10 years old and I told her she could get her pilot’s license and she kind of just looked at me like ‘really?’ and I let her fly the plane a little bit while we were up there because it’s safe once you’re up there. (But) I don’t think she had ever considered it, so that, to me is a great thing,” Knoth said.

Grand Haven did not have Young Eagles for several years, though, since the EAA 211 Chapter in Grand Haven is a building chapter, according to Young Eagles Coordinator and EAA member Warren Roosen. So while the chapter has built over 100 airplanes, the members did not fly or host Young Eagles.

Roosen, who has been flying since he was 16 and was a pilot in the Korean War, brought the program back to Grand Haven three years ago because of his love for children and educating about aviation. In three years, his group has flown 236 kids before Saturday’s final count.

“I don’t know what else to tell you but it’s a passion of mine because children are so important,” Roosen said. “Maybe I’m selfish and aviation means so very much to me that I want to see it expanded and it’s not expanding, it’s getting smaller all the time.”

Saturday’s turnout was smaller than usual, according to Roosen. But the kids who did get their free flights, such as 12-year-old Max Baykowski, enjoyed their flight and learning about the planes.

“I think all the things in the plane, that’s the stuff that kind of fascinates me, how the instruments and stuff work and sometimes the motion, when you climb and descend,” Baykowski said. “That’s probably my favorite part.”

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