- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 1, 2015

DECATUR, Ill. (AP) - He’s still a few years off from his license, but Landon Francisco proved himself more than capable in the pilot seat of an airplane.

Not too shabby for an 8-year-old.

Landon was among more than 100 children and parents who came out to the Decatur Airport on Saturday morning to take part in the Young Eagle Flights offered by the Decatur branch of the Experimental Aircraft Association.

The program, flying since the 1990s, has experienced pilots from across the area bring their small, typically four-seater planes to the airport and provide free rides for children between 8 and 17 years old. Participants also take part in a quick class before the flight that teaches different elements of aviation.

Bill Moore, publicity chairman for EAA 274, said the program combines a chance to provide an education about aviation and experience the thrill of being in the air.

“Sometimes, the kids are terrified to get on the plane,” he said. “Then once they land, they just have the biggest grins on their faces, and we cannot get them off the plane.”

Among those children was Gabrial Craycroft. When his pilot asked who wanted to sit in the front seat of his plane, Gabrial, 8, wasted no time to volunteer for the spot.

“It’s my first time, and I really wanted to do it,” he said after his flight. “You can see everything while you’re up there.”

Landon got more than a view, too, as his pilot allowed him to control the plane during the takeoff and for the duration of the roughly 15-minute flight.

After the plane landed, the first-time flier described the experience as fun.

“It was fun flying it and seeing how high it could get,” Francisco said. “I would fly again.”

That idea to keep the children engaged in aviation for the duration of their childhood is a key part of the program, Moore said.

“If we can touch even one child’s imagination and get them into this, then it’ll be worth it,” he said.

And with more than 6,000 children that have gone up in the air since the program began, more than a few of them have had that love of flying ignited by the experience.

Austin Seevers was 6 when he first felt the passion for flying, and he began to fly with the Young Eagle Flights soon afterward.

“It was just the excitement of being up there; it was an infection that started,” he said.

That excitement for flight led Seevers to the University of Illinois’ aviation program and into his current job as a pilot at GoJet Airlines.

But Saturday was his first time back at the Young Eagle Flights program as an instructor and pilot.

“I’ve always flown with the Young Eagles, and now I get to fly the Young Eagles,” Seevers said. “It’s almost come full circle, to see these kids’ faces light up just as mine did when I was their age. It gives me that drive to keep flying.”

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Source: (Decatur) Herald & Review, http://bit.ly/1MQrsYd

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Information from: Herald & Review, http://www.herald-review.com

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