July 31, 2013 - EAA Young Eagles co-chairmen Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger and Jeff Skiles, US Airways pilots who became national heroes after safely ditching Flight 1549 on the Hudson River in January 2009, are stepping down after leading the program for the past four years.
Sully looks back on those years fondly.
"It's been great working with Jeff," he said. "I could not ask for a better colleague. It was a real honor to have been asked to lead such an important program."
Sully credits the success of the program to the breadth of engagement by the many thousands of volunteers, the chapters, and all the EAA members.
"The enthusiasm is incredible," he said.
Skiles echoes those sentiments. "It's an ongoing honor to work with our chapters and members, who are the real reason for the program's success."
Young Eagles is the most successful youth aviation outreach in history, with nearly 1.8 million kids flown since its inception in 1992. Sully said it's also an important part of aviation's future.
"We're in the business of providing a connection between a desire and opportunity," he explained. "What's been fun to see is how the volunteers share their passion and see others get excited about it. Fuel the passion with a flight, not just a virtual adventure. That spark could result in a career as a pilot, a controller, technician, or a lifelong recreation pilot.
"It's also important because it fosters a sense of appreciation not only for aviation and what it means to our country and the world, but also the importance of our airport assets."
As EAA's vice president of communities and member programs, the Young Eagles program is Skiles' responsibility, one that he takes very seriously.
"I'm still as involved as ever in the program. Young Eagles is critically important to the future of aviation and the aviation industry," Skiles stressed. "It's becoming more and more of a problem for companies to find people who are interested in aviation as a career.
"The Young Eagles program aims to expose kids to aviation early then provide them with that next step after their first flight through our Flight Plan program with Sporty's online flight training course, a free flight lesson, and mentoring relationships."
Although they are stepping down, both Sully and Skiles plan to continue flying Young Eagles.
"Yes, certainly, I will continue to fly kids," Sully said. "I have not flown enough of them, but then again I don't fly as often as I would like. I look forward to flying again with Jeff. Being up in the air still provides me with a tremendous amount of satisfaction, to see the world from a different perspective."
Skiles gave Sully credit for his dedication to the program.
"It's been an honor to serve with Sully, who has been very generous with his time and resources for the program and EAA. He's a volunteer, and a generous one."
A new chairman is slated to be named at Thursday's Gathering of Eagles event.