September 26, 2013 - Fran Uliano, EAA 237515, flew his 400th Young Eagle, Abigail Murphy, on September 14, and he said it was the passenger, not the milestone, that made the flight one of his most memorable.
Abigail's mother, Carol, called Uliano to ask about the EAA Chapter 27 (Meridian, Connecticut) Young Eagles rally scheduled for October 12. Carol told Fran that she planned to bring all three of her children for flights, with Abby, 9, being the youngest.
Carol and Uliano spoke for a while about the children and Carol informed him that Abby had Down syndrome. Uliano had a free day and wanted to spend some extra time with the Murphy family, so he invited them to all come to the airport on September 14 rather than wait for the rally.
As soon as Abby arrived at the airport, she wanted to go flying. Uliano filled out the paperwork while witnessing Abby's excitement and soon the pair was headed for his plane. Abby's brother and sister went with another pilot, Steve Fraas, EAA 661826, for their flights.
Uliano put two pillows on the seat for the 3-1/2-foot-tall Abby and then strapped her in and started to explain what they were going to do. When Uliano told Abby that she would even be able to fly the plane once they were up and about, her excitement grew.
As soon as the pair broke ground, Abby reached for the yoke and said, "Now?" but Uliano had to smile and tell her it would still be a few minutes.
After Abby got her chance to fly and the happy duo cruised around in the sky for a while, they returned to the airport where Abby deplaned and shouted, "I loved flying an airplane!" to her mother and everyone else within earshot.
Her thanks was not only verbal, as she gave Uliano a big hug after the flight as well. He shared his feelings in a letter to EAA.
"I fell in love with this little girl. As we sat on the bench waiting for her brother and sister to finish flying with Steve, she got real close to me and she put my arms around her as her mother took our picture. Of the 400 I have flown, this is the best time I think I have had. Just to see a youngster affected by Down syndrome open her eyes and enjoy herself so much really made my day."
It definitely made Abby's, too, and she wasn't the only family member who got the bug from the Young Eagles flight either, as her brother Adam is planning on going to the EAA Air Academy next year.