Experimental Aircraft Association: Children Ages 8 to 17 Provided Opportunity to Fly With Area Pilots 

Free Flights to Again Be Offered for Kids at the Chehalis-Centralia Airport This Summer


The local Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) chapter 609 has opened registration for its Young Eagles program, which is dedicated to giving children between the ages of 8 and 17 their first free flight in an airplane, said Joy Rakes, the program coordinator.

Flights will be available on various days and times throughout June and July, with 13 local pilots volunteering their time, aircraft and fuel to take kids flying, including Joy Rakes’ husband, Brandon, who is the Chehalis-Centralia Airport director.

With seven pilots last year, the chapter was able to provide more than 400 free flights for kids over the summer. 

“To know that we’ve given that many people the opportunity to experience aviation first-hand, it’s an incredible feeling,” Brandon Rakes said. 

And it isn’t just Lewis County kids getting free flights. 

“We had kids coming from out of state, even from Oregon,” Joy Rakes said. “Parents were making a trip of it so their kids could have this experience.”  

She noted the program isn’t only for kids who have never flown before. Even if a child has already been taken on their first free Young Eagles flight, they are always welcome to sign up for another one.

“Every flight is free,” Joy Rakes said.  

Those interested can donate to the EAA 609 Scholarship fund, which helps kids pay for their pilot’s license should they decide to seriously pursue it. 

“A couple of years ago, we gave out $10,000 in scholarships to three kids involved with the program,” Joy Rakes said. 

Along with their free flight, children will also get to walk through the pre-flight checklist with the pilots, learning about the different components and controls used to fly. 

“It’s almost unbelievable, like, ‘wait you get free ground school?’” Brandon Rakes said. “Yeah, it’s basically the same ground school I took when I was getting my pilot’s license.” 

Once in the air, flights typically last between 15 and 20 minutes. If the pilot allows it, the children will get the chance to take the controls for straight and level flying and attempt a slight turn. 

After the flight, children will receive a Young Eagles logbook, similar to a pilot’s logbook, to record their first flight and any subsequent flights.  

Additionally, each child will receive a free student membership to www.youngeagles.org, which will be good through their 18th birthday. Memberships include access to EAA Sport Aviation Online, e-newsletters, a members only website, an Academy of Model Aeronautics student membership and free admission to over 300 science and technology museums nationwide. 

Parents or legal guardians interested in signing their children up for this program can email Joy Rakes at youngeagles609@yahoo.com. Be sure to include full names and a phone number. Joy Rakes will reach out to schedule the flight. 

The deadline to request a Young Eagles flight is June 9. 

Once a flight has been scheduled, children — along with their parents or legal guardians who will need to sign paperwork — will meet with a pilot at the Scott Crossfield Building located at 900 NW Airport Road at the Chehalis-Centralia Airport. 

Originally launched by the EAA in 1992, Young Eagles is a nationwide program with the mission to introduce and inspire kids to get into the aviation world. Since 1992, more than 2.3 million kids have enjoyed their free first flight through the program. For more information on the EAA Young Eagles program, visit https://www.eaa.org/eaa/youth/free-ye-flights. 


Flying Start Program

While the Young Eagles program offers youths the chance to get airborne and experience the aviation world, those 18 and older will also have the chance through the EAA’s Flying Start program, which is run by EAA chapter 609 president Jeri Mainero. 

“We’re actually starting (the Flying Start program) this weekend. We’ll have our first day,” Mainero said. 

Since it’s geared toward adults, those who enter the Flying Start program get longer and more in-depth pre-flight training on top of a longer flight — with flights lasting generally around half an hour. 

“It’s about a half-day class where we go through why to get into flying. The mentor pilots go into why they got into flying and some of the things you can do by flying like being a private pilot or flying commercially,” Mainero said. 

Flying Start flights are one-on-one with a student and a pilot. After the flight, participants are shown how to go about getting their pilot’s license, including how to get in contact with a local certified flight instructor.

Like the Young Eagle flights, Flying Start flights are free. Anyone interested in getting involved with the program can email Mainero at letsfly609@yahoo.com. 

For more information on the EAA Flying Start program, visit https://bit.ly/3pRjNax.