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Young Eagles Volunteers to be Honored

By Barbara A. Schmitz

July 21, 2015 - Commitment. Dedication. Passion.

What happens when you add those three traits together? You come up with individuals, like the ones being honored Wednesday night, who make a huge difference to EAA’s flagship program, Young Eagles.

Four people will receive awards for their extraordinary work during the Young Eagle Dinner. They include:

Phillips 66 Leadership Award

Fred Stadler doesn’t just believe in EAA and Young Eagles. He lives it year-round.

About 15 years ago, Stadler and his wife, Carol, moved from Texas to Oshkosh, in part to be close to EAA’s headquarters. Most days during the summer you’ll find Stadler helping out at Pioneer Airport and giving Young Eagle flights. In fact, on July 1, Stadler flew his 6,000th Young Eagle, Elias Adrian, of Watertown, Wisconsin, in the Young Eagles GlaStar.

“I like flying Young Eagles because of the variety of the kids; they make it interesting,” he says. “You can only have your own first flight once; giving Young Eagles flights is the next closest thing to reliving that experience.”

When he’s flying in EAA’s GlaStar, he can only take one child up at a time. “But that’s the way I prefer it,” he says. “You want them to feel like a pilot, not a passenger.”

He says he tries to stress two things to the children: that flying is fun and that learning to fly is within their ability.

Stadler says he enjoys “planting seeds” about aviation and possible related careers. But he also tries to educate the children and parents to be “aviation tolerant,” so they understand the importance of their local airport and are willing to support it.

When he’s not flying Young Eagles, Stadler helps maintain Young Eagles aircraft, serves as treasurer for Oshkosh’s Chapter 252, provides Pioneer Airport pilot checkouts and recurrent training, and coordinates the AirVenture NOTAM procedures, which are provided to help pilots flying into the convention. He also is co-chairman of flightline operations during AirVenture.

Yet Stadler is humble about receiving the Phillips 66 award. “It feels odd to get an award for doing something that is so enjoyable,” he says.

Horizon’s Award

For years, members of EAA Chapter 850 discussed how they could follow up with children who had taken their Young Eagles flight, particularly those who seemed really interested in flying or aviation careers, says Ted Kirkpatrick, of Gwinn, Michigan. In 2005, they came up with an idea: offer a full immersion experience for those youth, complete with mentors.

“We tried to mirror what happens at the EAA Air Academy, but on a smaller basis,” explains Kirkpatrick, chapter president.

It worked.

While the aviation camp is only offered when they have enough students and pilots available to help, the program recently took a new direction. In 2013, the chapter partnered with Northern Michigan University and North Star Academy, a public school chartered by NMU, to put on a program at the university’s aviation facilities and at Sawyer International Airport.

Open to middle and high school students, the three-day program, taught by college aviation faculty and Chapter 850 members, included principles of flight, weather systems, navigation charts, flight plan development, and aviation careers. It ended with an airplane ride, with students acting as navigators to find a difficult-to-locate airfield.

Kirkpatrick and Chapter 850 are this year’s recipients of the Horizon’s Award, which recognizes efforts that go beyond the basic Young Eagles flight.

Programs like this are important to ensure there are more pilots and aviation enthusiasts for the future, Kirkpatrick says. “We’re a small chapter, but like any other chapter, the age of our pilots has gone up. We don’t have a lot of young people.”

While they don’t keep statistics on the number of students who go on to pursue aviation careers, they know they are making an impact. “Even if we touch one youth, it’s worth it,” Kirkpatrick says. “I know we’re getting some new pilots and new blood, and that’s exciting.”

Chapter Coordinator

Dick Merrill has been determined to keep EAA Young Eagle events running smoothly and safely. And he’s been successful at it, too.

Merrill, of Stafford, Virginia, was Chapter 1099’s Young Eagles coordinator from 2003-2014. During that time, he organized 71 chapter rallies that flew 2,308 children at three local airports.

He also developed procedures that are now standard for all Chapter 1099 Young Eagles rallies, streamlining procedures and registrations and providing standardization for the pilots, ground support volunteers and others so nothing could be misunderstood.

Knowing that rallies couldn’t occur without the many volunteers, Merrill makes sure people are thanked, providing a lunch for volunteers after each rally, and a letter of appreciation annually.

While Merrill is now the chapter’s Young Eagles consultant, he and his wife, Gail, continue to volunteer at rallies. For kids who clearly have an interest in aviation, the Merrills try to seat them in the co-pilot’s seat so they can handle the controls. When possible, they also make sure those children get to fly with a certified flight instructor, so each child gets flight time signed off toward his or her rating.

Merrill has flown 532 Young Eagles himself. “Sharing aviation with a young person is fun,” he explains. “When I was young, I was the kid who stood at the airport fence and looked at airplanes take off. The kids are excited and that excitement rubs off me.”

While making a conscious effort to get girls and minorities interested in aviation, Merrill says the program’s success goes beyond creating additional new pilots. “Our goal is really to make a generation of people who are aviation and airport friendly,” he says. “They understand the need to treat airports as a community asset, as the jewel of each community, and not something to be a point of contention.”

Ground Support Volunteer

Jeanne Ferguson says seeing other dedicated people made her believe in EAA’s Young Eagles program. But for 16 years, Ferguson, of Sugar Hill, Georgia, has done more than just believe. She has proven her dedication by leading Chapter 690’s Young Eagle’s ground operations.

Ferguson says she was overwhelmed when she first learned she was this year’s Ground Support Volunteer award recipient. “Typical of other chapters, nothing happens because of one person’s efforts,” she says. “But I am honored to represent the chapter.”

Celebrating its 35th anniversary this year, Chapter 690 flies about 500 youths annually, she says. Her job during Young Eagle rallies is to facilitate and manage all the work done on the ground – registering kids, making sure they each receive a safety briefing, escorting the youth to the planes and their assigned pilot, creating certificates, and so on.

Young Eagles allows children to be exposed to aviation who otherwise would not know about its career options, she says. But it’s the children’s enthusiasm and desire to learn that keeps her and others volunteering.

 “We probably have 20 to 25 regular volunteers each month, and that is what makes it work,” she says. “We have a lot of people in our chapter who are not pilots, but who just love aviation.” That also describes Ferguson and her husband, a retired Air Force flight engineer.

In addition, Ferguson helps with the EAA B-17 and Ford Tri-Motor visits, and is chapter treasurer and membership chairwoman.

EAA Chapter 690 has also been proactive in getting youth and others interested in aviation by offering a weekly camp, access to an “amazing” simulator, and more, she says.

 “When you participate in a positive environment and try to educate people and kids, it is just infectious,” Ferguson says. “It’s what makes you enjoy life.”
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