The Southernmost EAA Chapter is not just a bunch of rich retirees who sit around sipping coffee and talking about their planes.
In fact, Marc Hightower parallels his previous profession as boat captain to his new career as a licensed pilot.
“People think as a boat captain that you’re so wealthy when the truth of the matter is, you’re lucky if you eek out $30,000 a year,” he noted.
Patricia Janda clarified an enthusiasm and passion for aviation is just like any other recreational interest.
“It doesn’t always have to be the biggest and the best,” Janda added.
Next weekend, Hightower and Janda will be among the dozens of hands on deck to host yet another Young Eagles event at the Marathon Airport.
“We just want more young people to become interested in aviation in general,” said the Southernmost EAA chapter’s past president Ed Waldorf, who retired from the Florida Marine Patrol before he was finally able to pursue one of his true passions. “It’s not just about flying, but building, restoring.”
Between the fuel costs, the insurance coverage, the pilots’ expenses and the donation of private planes to fly anywhere between 80 to 150 kids, Waldorf estimated the chapter’s dolled out about $200,000 to $300,000 to put on the Young Eagles program since the chapter’s inception 12 years ago.
Waldorf and EAA members and pilots admit they often get as much out of the day if not more than the kids they take on their first plane ride.
“Just to see the smiles on their faces,” Waldorf beamed.
Mark Fry said he always loves hearing the kids exclaim, “This is my first time to fly!” to which he often promptly responds, “Mine, too!”
Hightower grinned recalling the first time he volunteered his recently assembled Kit Fox during a Young Eagles day.
“The doors opened upwards and were under the wings where they were hard to see,” he remembered. “I had parents asking me if they could put their kids in a plane with doors!”
The greatest reward, Janda added, is when an initially timid child returns from their first flight beaming with pride.
“That’s one of the neatest things, is when the kids are scared, but the parents push them anyway, and they come back and are so excited!”
If you have a child between the ages of 8 and 17 who’s interested in experiencing flight for the first time or reliving the excitement from last year, the Young Eagles program will kick off next Saturday, Nov. 5 at 10 am in the EAA Museum at the Marathon Airport (across from Pizza Hut). For more information about the Young Eagles program contact Ed Waldorf at (305) 731-3176. Visit us at www.southernmosteaa.com and at Southernmost EAA on Facebook.