Young Eagles soar above Cottonwood

Staff photo by Philip Wright

EXPERIMENTAL airplanes were lined up Wednesday morning at Cottonwood Airport waiting to give free Young Eagles flights to high school students attending Junior ROTC camp near Flagstaff. The flights were provided by members of the Experimental Aircraft Association's local chapter.

For many of the cadets, it was their first experience flying. Some even took the controls to feel the thrill of flight first hand.

The cadets were bused to Cottonwood from the Arizona National Guard's Camp Navajo near Flagstaff. The cadets, all members of the Arizona Guard's Junior ROTC program, were at the camp for a week of special training, including rappelling, astronomy, land navigation, camping and community service. The camp is part of the National Guard's ROTC program, which includes both Army and Air guard units. The camp is an annual event, but the flying was a special treat, organized and conducted by the Cottonwood Chapter of the Experimental Aircraft Association. Pilots from the Payson and Prescott chapters helped with the project by flying in on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday mornings to help local pilots introduce the cadets to flying.

Martha Kaldenbaugh, pilot and member of the local chapter, was instrumental in organizing the three-day event. Col. Bob Anderson of the Arizona Guard was in charge of the cadets.

Anderson said the 200 Junior ROTC cadets represent 20 high schools in Arizona. "We expect that number to go higher," Anderson said.

The local connection to the Junior ROTC was through a program called Young Eagles, sponsored nationwide by the EAA. Throughout the year, the local chapter sponsors flight days for youth ages 8 to 17. During those days, local children are given free flights in private aircraft. After a first flight is completed, each child receives a Young Eagles certificate and is registered in the EAA's computer. The flights this week for the ROTC cadets was part of the Young Eagles program.

"This is the 10th year," said Bette Bach Fineman, pilot and member of the local chapter of EAA. "The national organization made a commitment to fly one million kids by the anniversary of the Wright Brothers' first flight."

Kaldenbaugh said the EAA chapter holds the Young Eagle flights for Scout organizations and schools. "We'll take a whole classroom up for their first flight," she said.

Anderson said the Young Eagles flights have been a real benefit to the state's Junior ROTC program. "I can't tell you how much this has meant to the program throughout the state," he said.

"One of the things we try to do is connect the generations," Anderson said. "There is a huge value in doing that." He said bringing the young people together with adult pilots goes a long way helping the two generations connect with and understand each other.

During Wednesday morning's flights most of the kids involved had the opportunity to take the controls of an airplane, if they were comfortable doing so. Because only 30 kids were flown on Wednesday, almost all of them sat behind a set of flight controls.

"Everyone that sits in the right seat is given the opportunity to see what it feels like to control the airplaine," Kaldenbaugh said.

On Monday and Tuesday mornings, the program handled too many cadets for all of them to take the controls, but each cadet did receive a flight.

Kaldenbaugh said some neighbors of the airport had complained this week about the noise and the number of flights. But she said introducing children to aviation is important for the country. "We're doing a tremendous community service," she said.

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