NEW PORT RICHEY — A group of Boy Scouts had their head in the clouds while trying to earn a merit badge.
On June 22, 13 Boy Scouts from Troop 33 took to the sky to earn their Aviation Merit Badges. The scouts went flying with EAA Chapter 791 pilots at the Hidden Lake Airport in New Port Richey.
There were six private planes that took each child up individually.
The Experimental Aircraft Association, has a program called the Young Eagles. It allows youth between the ages of 8 and 17 to ride in a plane for the first time. Over 2 million EAA Young Eagles have taken flight across the country since it began in 1992. Chapter 791 brings up groups of youngsters such as scout troops, church groups and JROTC high school cadets.
John Voda, Young Eagle coordinator, never gets tired of seeing how the children’s faces light up.
“We do it for the joy of it and to watch these kids’ faces when they get out of the airplane,” Voda said.
Despite how vocal the scouts were about their fear at the beginning, he said, “Their smiles are still wider than their faces most of the time.”
He said, “It is a program to initiate young people into flying.”
Voda has been with Chapter 791 for 12 years, as well as a New York chapter for five years. He’s done more than 1,250 flights with the program, with the help of his co-coordinator, Sidney Miller.
“Our passion is flying,” he said.
Ojayith Cheni and Jake Sanderson, 11, shared mixed feelings about the initial idea.
Cheni said he was pretty scared but once he got in, he wasn’t so nervous anymore.
Sanderson was “excited but nervous” about the flight, but his fear was eased thanks to the pilot.
“My pilot was really nice, and he kind of showed me how everything worked, and he went easy on the turns during the first few minutes of the flight,” he said.
Mathias Petroff, 11, wants to join the Air Force when he gets older, but had no problem talking about how scary the experience was at first.
“I was scared out of my mind,” Petroff said. His nerves calmed a bit as the flight went on, but he was not a fan of the descent.
He said, “There is one part when the nose went down, and I was like ‘Whoa, whoa! Chill out.’ ”
P.J. Simkins, 11, was all smiles when he said, “I wasn’t nervous at all.”
They even had the opportunity to put their hands on the yoke, also known as a control wheel, and help steer the plane for a part of the flight.
Craig Laporte is a pilot and has participated in the Young Eagles program for 13 years. He believes that it can lead to future careers in aviation.
“The best part of this whole program to me is giving kids an opportunity to do something they have never done before and exposing them to a potential career that they might like,” Laporte said.
Deen Cheni and Dan Simkins are assistant scout masters and love to experience every event alongside their children.
“As a leader, you get to do all the fun things the kids get to do,” said Dan, PJ’s father.
Deen, Ojayith’s father, also had a chance to go up into the plane and was curious about how safe it was to have his phone out for pictures due to a worry about possible reception interference.
“The very first question I asked was ‘Do I need to turn off my cell phone?’ ” he said. Once he was assured it was safe, he was taking photos in the air only to be surprised by a phone call from his wife.
When she found out he was talking to her from over a thousand feet above ground, she was shocked and excited as well.
“It was a really good experience,” Deen said.
For more information about the EAA and the Young Eagles program, visit www.eaa.org.