Men soar with Young Eagles [UPDATED]Published 11:44am Thursday, September 9, 2010 Updated 7:48am Friday, September 10, 2010
In order for the next generation of young people to become excited about a cause, a profession or an idea, that generation must have someone to look up to. For the next generation of flyers, two such people are David Jennen and Keith Olson.
Jennen and Olson each just reached a milestone with the Young Eagles program, a branch of the Experimental Aircraft Association. The Young Eagles program seeks to promote flying among young people and to give kids a chance to experience aircraft in ways they wouldn’t otherwise be able to.
Jennen, 57, has now given airplane rides to over 300 kids during his time with the program. The Heilberger Lake resident, who works for the Otter Tail County Sheriff’s Office as a patrol sergeant, started flying in 1996, after his daughter told him she wanted to stop ice skating lessons and take up flying lessons. After his wife bought him a lesson too, Jennen took to the skies, and he’s loved it ever since.
He’s been participating in Young Eagles for the last 10 years, and he’s been the program’s local coordinator for the last six. Before he was coordinator, the group mostly flew kids in church groups or other groups that had parents invested in the process.
“What bothered me about that,” said Jennen, “is that we never got to the kids whose parents weren’t engaged.” With that in mind, Jennen and the Young Eagles forged a partnership with the Fergus Falls School District to set aside a spring day in which all interested eighth graders can take an airplane ride. About 10 airplanes participate each year, and Jennen is there every year with his Cessna 172.
Jennen comes into the school on a day prior to the event and gives the kids a sort of “ground school” event to train them about the planes before they go on the ride. He also tells kids about professions they could follow that would put them in or around airplanes, from flight attendants to pilots to mechanics to airplane designers. And many kids have been very interested.
The Young Eagles are also hands-on in trying to continue kids’ education. Kids participating in the airplane rides get a logbook which they can use for future rides. Program participants can also show the book to flight attendants on commercial flights, who may then be able to let them ride in the cockpit for a while.
Each logbook also comes with an access code that kids can redeem for a free ground training course from Sporty’s Pilot Shop. The course usually costs about $200. There are also other educational and financial ways the Young Eagles try to help out aspiring pilots.
Jennen likes the idea that the kids he takes up today might be the pilots and airplane designers of tomorrow, but he’s mostly happy that he can give children an experience they might not otherwise have. To understand the joy he gets, he said, “You almost have to see the kids come out of the airplane afterward.”
Olson, 50, hasn’t participated in Young Eagles as long, but he’s very pleased that he recently surpassed the milestone of giving 100 kids airplane rides. The owner of Olson Furniture Store in Fergus Falls has been flying kids in his Piper Cherokee Challenger for about five years now, but he’s been flying for a lot longer — since he was 16, in 1976.
“I flew before I had a driver’s license,” he said with a smile.
Olson originally got involved with Young Eagles because he had children of his own in eighth grade, and he knew other kids who were in eighth grade as well. “I wanted to volunteer to give those kids an experience,” he said.
His kids have since moved on from eight grade, but Olson still participates in the program for two reasons. First, he said, it’s fun to introduce kids to aviation, and second, he believes that those introductory efforts are important. “It’s a valuable program … and it’s the satisfaction I get from taking kids for a ride,” he explained.
The Young Eagles are putting on a program with the Fergus Falls Municipal Airport on Saturday, Sept. 11, where they will give rides to kids ages 8 to 17 from noon to 4 p.m. If demand is high, Jennen explained, the Young Eagles will take down names and schedule another flight day for later.
Olson also wanted to thank the volunteers who spend all the time on the ground to make the rides possible. It’s very much a team effort, he explained.
“We just have the fun stuff of taking the kids flying,” he said. “It takes a village.”