Free airplane rides for kids at Young Eagles Day on Saturday in Buckhannon

BUCKHANNON – This Saturday, local youth can experience the joy of flying firsthand as they soar through the skies over Upshur County — for free — thanks to area pilots participating in the Young Eagles Day program.

The Buckhannon Young Eagles Day is making a return this year after a hiatus due to airport construction and the COVID-19 pandemic. The event will take off on Saturday, June 4, at 10 a.m. at the Upshur County Regional Airport, offering kids between the ages of 8-17 the opportunity to learn about aviation and take a free airplane ride, with parental or guardian consent.

Flights will run from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and last about 15-20 minutes each.

Phil Loftis, the airport’s treasurer, said the event is organized by the Experimental Aviation Association, a group founded to promote flying.

“They recognized a while back that there wasn’t much of an opportunity for kids to learn about aviation as a field or as a concept, and that a lot of kids have never been in an airplane or had an airplane ride,” Loftis said. “Around the early 2000s, before the Wright brothers’ 100-year anniversary came about, they took on the goal of giving a million free plane flights to kids. They were successful, so they’ve continued since then.”

The event this Saturday will feature at least five aircraft being brought in for the event, and currently, about 131 people have signed up to participate.

“I spoke with the EAA coordinator yesterday evening, and he flew in to check out the facility and so forth,” Loftis said. “This will be the first year that we’ve hosted directly since we built the new terminal building at the airport, and he wanted to see what kind of facilities they have. He indicated the online preregistration would close this evening — that doesn’t mean kids can’t fly, they’ll still take walk-ins — but pre-registration is encouraged, mainly to help us plan. But don’t let that stop you from coming down (if you didn’t pre-register).”

The event has been held at the Upshur County Regional Airport on and off since the early 2000s.

“It’s not just hop in the airplane, go take a ride and you’re done,” Loftis said. “There’s an educational aspect to it. After the kids come and sign in, there’ll be shown the airplanes how they work, what the key components are, a very brief introduction to what makes an airplane fly, how to control it, that sort of thing. Then they get to take their airplane ride. When they come back, they’ll get a certificate and they’ll have big smiles on their faces.”

Loftis said he was happy to see the event making a return and encouraged people to stop by and see the airport.

“The airport is a hidden gem,” he said. “Not very many people in the area know about the airport, or have a clue where it is or what it offers as a resource, so anything that gets people to come out to the airport in a positive way, we’re in favor of it,” Loftis said.

Flight participants must be kids between the ages of 8 and 17, but Loftis encouraged airplane lovers of all ages to come see the aircraft.

More information about Young Eagles Day can be found here.

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