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Soaring eagles

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Local pilots give lifetime chance to 251 Young Eagles

By Kate Darnell

The skies of Harrison County were filled with Young Eagles this past Saturday.

“I’m scared,” Richard Pence, 8, said as he waited to board a small airplane owned and piloted by Bill Stoeppel.

Both Richard and his brother Michael Vancleve, 9, had never  flown in an airplane, much less a small private plane.

That is, until Saturday.

Richard and Michael were two of the 251 children that flew into the skies as part of the Young Eagles program at the Cynthiana-Harrison County Airport.

“You never know... some of those kids will take onto flying one of these days,” airport board member Avi Bear said Saturday afternoon, looking past the long line of children that waited for their flight. “...that’s what it’s all about.”

It’s a project, Bear said, that began 10 years ago with airport board chairman Bobby Craft and his wife Jeana.

“The Young Eagles is one of the best aviation programs we have been involved in and we were hooked after the first child stepped off the plane in 1999 smiling from ear to ear,” said Jeana. “We knew right then this was a program that we wanted to support and with the help of some great volunteers and dedicated pilots, we have been able to do so every year.”

Hearing about the Young Eagles program being hosted at Scott County, Bobby asked that the event be hosted in Harrison County as well.

In 1999 the Experimental Aircraft Association brought the Young Eagles event to Harrison County and 36 kids flew in airplanes.

Nick Anderson was one of those 36.

“In 1999, one of our first Young Eagles was Nick Anderson,” Jeana said.

After receiving his pilots license from Eastern Kentucky University this year, Anderson was back for Young Eagles - this time to fly kids in his airplane.

His joy for flight, Jeana said, is the same as it was when he first stepped out of that plane for the first time 10 years ago.

“He flew 42 Young Eagles and I think the smile on his face was bigger than the ones on the kids he flew,” she said.

Bobby and Jeana’s quest became two-fold.

“We want to inspire more young kids like Nick and maybe end up with a few more pilots in the skies,” Jeana said. “Second, we want to give children that may not otherwise ever have the chance to fly the opportunity to see the world from a different perspective.”

“I can see the whole world up here,” said Michael, as he sat in the passenger seat of Stoeppel’s airplane. “Look over there, I can see houses...”

From 1,400 feet up in the air, Stoeppel pointed out McDonald’s.

“Excuse me, sir... Am I going to be able to help you drive?” Michael asked.

Stoeppel explained some buttons and levers and before long, Michael steered the plane.

“Do you know how to do a barrel roll?” Michael asked Stoeppel.

“Michael, we’re not doing any tricks,” Richard said from the back.

Stoeppel was one of the eight pilots that flew 251 kids Saturday.

He traveled from Texas. Another pilot came from Michigan

“I do it to get kids interested in flying - to keep aviation going,” Stoeppel said.

Besides Anderson and Stoeppel, other pilots included Jim Wilson, Mike Warner, Jim Thomas, Matt Dezee, Mark Hough and Paul McCauley.

“That was awesome,” said Brandi Ballinger, 11, as she climbed out of the plane after a ride with Paul McCauley.

“What did you see?” Brandi’s mother asked her.

“Horses,” she said. “They looked like little ants!”

From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, pilots loaded their planes with kids, took off, landed, unloaded, and did it all again and again and again... until every child who wanted to fly had a ride, a picture in front of the airplane and a certificate.

Eastern Aviation Fuels (Shell) provided the gas for the day’s events. Other sponsors included the National EAA, Sporty’s, the Cynthiana-Harrison County Airport Board, and Avi’s Oven Art.

The promotion of aviation and the airport, Bear said, is important for the growth of business in Harrison County.

“It speaks for the community,” Bear said.

While he wasn’t in the air Saturday, Larry Gossett was at the airport watching the day’s action... and reminiscing.

A Harrison County native, Gossett has been piloting for Fed Ex for 30 years.

“There’s a lot of positive things going on at this airport,” Gossett said, naming a new ramp that was recently built and a new terminal that will soon be constructed. “A lot of community people are coming together... The best is yet to come.”

Like Anderson, it was at the Cynthiana-Harrison County Airport where Gossett’s love for aviation began.

As a teenager, Gossett worked at the airport part time, sometimes working for pay, other times working for his time in the air.

The airport was busy with travel at the time, and Gossett said he believes that is soon be the case again.

“I sense there’s a revival of that enthusiasm,” he said.

And on Saturday, at the Cynthiana-Harrison County Airport, enthusiasm wasn’t hard to find.

It seemed to spread all the way to the sky.