Young pilots enrolled in the Young Eagles program climbed in the cockpit as part of International Learn to Fly Day at Arlington Municipal Airport Saturday.
Christopher Estell and Jerry Staton boarded a Cessna aircraft for a memorable flight. At nine years old, Staton will be co-piloting and flying for the first time ever.
In the captain's seat was Rick Raesz, a pilot with 35 years of experience and a member of the Experimental Aircraft Association Chapter 34 which created the Young Eagles program.
Young Eagles gives boys and girls the opportunity to discover the thrill of flight and hopefully consider aviation as a career.
"It's a completely unique experience that they've never had," Raesz said. "It's an amazing thing and it's really a pleasure to look at their faces."
Raesz was one of four pilots and several volunteers with EAA Chapter 34 who volunteered their time, planes and money to fly 30 kids and several adults on Saturday.
Over the years, Raesz said the program has made a difference.
"They introduce themselves and say 'I guess you don't remember me, but I'll never forget you, you introduced me to aviation. Now I’m flying for American, Delta,'" Raesz said.
For these youngsters, the program comes at a crucial time.
According to the Federal Aviation Administration, the industry is experiencing a staff shortage across the board including pilots.
In 1990, there were 129,000 students enrolled in pilot school. But in 2009, the number fell to 72,000 people.
The next International Learn to Fly Day is scheduled for May 18, 2013, but EAA Chapter 34 hosts the Young Eagles program events year round.