VACAVILLE — Forget the car, 12-year-old Antonio Talavera now wants an airplane.
Antonio was one of about 45 children Saturday who took advantage of free small plane rides with the Young Eagles at the Nut Tree Airport.
The local Young Eagles program, which is designed to introduce aviation to children and teens, is sponsored by the Experimental Aircraft Association Chapter No. 1230 and assisted by the Lee A. Archer Jr. chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen. Every third Saturday from March through November, volunteer pilots, all association members, take children ages 8 through 17 up for rides in their airplanes.
“It was really fun,” Antonio said.
Before taking off, pilot Joey Myers of Fairfield explained safety matters, the airplane’s controls and the route they would take on the flight, which lasted an average of 20 to 30 minutes. The trip would take Antonio up Interstate 505, turn over Winters and over Lake Solano before returning.
His parents, along with two siblings who didn’t share Antonio’s desire to take to the skies, stayed on the ground and waited for him to come back. His mother, Cathy Talavera, said he was eager to get moving this morning.
“He got up by himself,” she said, laughing. “I was like, ‘Geez, why can’t you do this for school?’ ”
Antonio was one of the first-timers but the monthly flights also attract the same children, enthusiastic about flying, time and time again, said several of the pilots. The same could be said of the pilots, who volunteer over and over again, bringing their enthusiasm and passion for flying to each flight day.
“The aviation bug bit me when I was the age of these kids,” said Myers, who is a C5 Galaxy flight engineer at Travis Air Force Base. “If I could get just one kid interested . . .”
The planes vary widely, from Myers’ smaller experimental plane, an Avid Flyer, that goes about 80 mph, to Robert Ensley’s larger experimental Vans Aircraft RV-7 that can cruise the blue yonder at 205 mph. Planes used in the Young Eagles are both experimental, which are built from kits, and factory-built, such as Cessnas. All are registered by the Federal Aviation Administration.
Ensley, a local chiropractor, was one of about eight pilots involved in Saturday’s event. This was his first time volunteering with the Young Eagles. He’ll be back to do it again as time allows, he said.
“I thought it was fun,” Ensley said. “They’re excited, they love it and I shared that excitement.”
Some of the frequent-flying youngsters take over the controls for a good portion of the ride – those with less experience perhaps not at all or for a shorter length of time.
“I’ve had some fly me the whole circuit,” said pilot Woody Harris, who has volunteered with the Young Eagles for about four years.
He takes the children and teens up in his experimental Zodiac 601XLB, which goes about 120 mph. It took him about 18 months to build the plane, which was completed in 2008, he said.
His last flight of the day was Kimi Norway, 9. She had a plastered smile of trepidation on her face as Harris explained the controls, helped her buckle her seat belt and set up a navigation software program called Cloud Ahoy on a mounted iPad in front of her.
The program tracks and logs cockpit data, including altitude, speed and multidirectional cockpit views. Harris sends a link via email to each child that allows family to be a part of the child’s flight, he said.
Kimi, a first-time flyer with the Young Eagles, came back smiling, minus the trepidation.
“Once I got used to it, it was good,” she said.
The local Young Eagles program was started in the early 1990s by Tuskegee airmen, Lt. Col. James Warren, a Vacaville resident. Both the Young Eagles and the Experimental Aircraft Association, which is based in Wisconsin, are international endeavors. According to the website, www.youngeagles.org., 1.6 million Young Eagles have flown with the program in 90 countries.
For more information about the Young Eagles, call Howard Gunn at 483-6357 or Gerald Gordon at 446-8532.
Reach Susan Winlow at 427-6955 or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/swinlowdr.