Up, up and away...Young Eagles program draws large crowd of youngsters to Sunnyside airport


12-year-old Jamie Lopez (left) watches as his sisters Rebecka, 8, (center) and Jezebelle, 10, climb out of a plane, fresh off a flight in the Yakima Valley thanks to the Experimental Aircraft Association's Young Eagles program. It took some convincing to get Jezebelle off the ground, but she was tickled with the flight afterwards.

The opportunity for youths to experience the thrill of flying at the Sunnyside Airport this past Sunday drew a huge crowd, much larger than expected, according to Civil Air Patrol Major Jack Parker.

The Civil Air Patrol was on hand for crowd control and, as it turns out, it was necessary.

The event invited area youths from ages eight to 17 to fly for free. About 40 kids were expected to show up, but the event drew just under 100 children.

According to avid flyer Ted Durfey of Sunnyside, the purpose was to give youth experience in aviation, the aviation industry, and all things related to aviation. And, he added, "Just the experience to see what it's like being in a small plane."

Young Jezebelle Lopez, 10, was so unsure about flying in a plane it reduced her to tears. But after her flight, the young Sunnysider decided it wasn't so bad after all. Pilot Ola Vestad, who took she and her two siblings up in a plane, said she overcame her fear so much that "if we had a parachute, she would've come down first!"

Vestad said he hoped the Sunnyside community learned the Sunnyside Airport is "worth keeping and protecting."

One plane kids got to fly in was a homebuilt Lancair, which not only flies faster than most but can actually fly from Sunnyside to Miami on one tank of fuel.

Vestad said since the international Experimental Aircraft Association created the Young Eagles program, one and a half million children have flown in small planes internationally. In Yakima, 2,300 youths have flown to date.

Yakima's club has 70 members, one of whom is Sen. Jim Honeyford. In the Civil Air Patrol, he is known as Senior Officer Honeyford.

Honeyford initially joined the Ellensburg club by invitation to serve as a legislative voice for the club. He's since changed to the Yakima club. "I wanted to do more than that, so I'm no longer in the legislative squadron in Ellensburg."

Youths are invited to attend Civil Air Patrol meetings, held in Yakima every Monday night at 5:30 at the National Guard Armory. Youths will learn, Parker said, "just about everything that has to do with aviation."


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