At 8 years old, Gregory Kelly is already making tough career decisions.
“I don’t want to be a football player anymore,” Gregory said. “I want to be a pilot. An aerobatic pilot, and I want to fly a fast plane like that one.”
Gregory pointed to a four-seat Mooney airplane in which he had just had his first flight. He flew with pilot Bob Morgan as part of the Experimental Aircraft Association’s Young Eagles Program, which gives children free airplane rides to pique their interest in aviation.
Saturday’s Eagle flights were part of A Day at the Columbia Airport, the airport’s first open house. More than 40 children got an aerial view of the Columbia area aboard small planes, such as Cessnas, Pipers and other aircraft, including some home-built planes.
“There is something special about being able to lift off the ground and fly,” said Dave Martin, a member of the association’s Chapter 429 in Jefferson City and organizer of Saturday’s flights. “It’s both a freedom and a privilege, but many children don’t have an opportunity to experience that. We hope to give them that opportunity.”
Another first-time flyer, Darrell Hickem, 15, marveled that the things he sees everyday are much smaller from the air, while James Miller and his brother Jamin steered the plane on their first flight.
“It was pretty hard, and I was a little nervous,” said Jamin. “To make the plane go up, I wasn’t sure how far out to pull the steering wheel. The view, though, was the best part.”
The planes flew over the Missouri River and the MU campus before returning to the airport. Stepping off the planes, many of the children talked excitedly about their flights.
Caleb Casady, 14, talked about the SR-71 Blackbird, a retired Air Force jet he learned about by watching military-aviation shows on the History and Discovery channels.
“It’s the fastest plane ever,” Caleb said. “It has never gotten shot down by a missile because it can outrun them.”
Caleb would like to eventually fly similar planes as a member of the U.S. Air Force and possibly own a plane. His father, John Casady, said Saturday’s event was a source of inspiration.
“It gives him a lot of incentive to do well in school and get good grades so that someday he’ll have a good job and can afford to own his own plane,” Casady said.
Saturday flyers received certificates recording their flight; their names, along with details of their flight, will be entered into the “World’s Largest Logbook” at the EAA Air Adventure Museum in Oshkosh, Wis., where the association is based.
A Day at the Columbia Airport also featured Federal Aviation Administration seminars for area pilots and displays by the Civil Air Patrol, the Air Force, the Missouri Pilots Association and the Zenith Corp. There was also a powered parachute and model aircraft demonstration, as well as an airport firefighting rescue demonstration.
The firefighting demonstration featured the Mobile Aircraft Rescue Firefighting Trainer, an old plane skeleton set ablaze using liquid propane. The plane is owned by the Missouri Department of Transportation and travels to airports statewide for yearly training sessions that are mandatory for airport firefighters.
On Saturday, airport policemen Don Elliot and Mark Albertson put out the fire using the airport’s new $720,000 fire truck, which featured high-power jets attached to its exterior. The city covered only 10 percent of the truck’s cost; the FAA covered the rest.
“It gives us greater firefighting capabilities,” Elliot said of the new truck. “It allows us to fight both aircraft and structural fires, and we can also use water, foam and dry chemicals simultaneously to fight fires.”
Airport Manager Bill Boston, who was on hand to watch the firefighting demonstration, hopes the event becomes an annual attraction.
“We want to reach out to the public and highlight the other activities that occur at this airport other than the daily commercial flights,” Boston said.