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First Solo Achieved in Tucker’s Youth Mentoring Program

  • Manuel Maya with Sean Tucker
    Manuel Maya with Sean Tucker after soloing for the first time on May 4 in Salinas, California.

May 14, 2015 - Young Eagles Chairman Sean D. Tucker’s Every Kid Can Fly program celebrated its first solo student pilot last week as 17-year-old Manuel Maya flew a Cessna 152 by himself for the first time on May 4 at the Salinas Municipal Airport, California. The program, based in Tucker’s hometown of Salinas, California, uses aviation to help disadvantaged young people change their lives and break the cycle of gangs, drugs, violence, and incarceration.

Every Kid Can Fly is conducted in partnership with Rancho Cielo, a youth facility in Monterey County created to help the area with significant crime problems related to gang activity. Once struggling academically, Manuel is now getting straight A’s as he works to escape the overwhelming presence of area gangs, which is described as a “hard-luck” town.

“I am so proud of Manny,” Tucker said after his first solo flight in the program’s donated Cessna 152. “He soloed after about 20 hours of flight training. He was ready to go. After double and triple checking everything, I told him, ‘It’s time.’”

Tucker further explained that Manuel’s mother already has lost two sons - one to prison and the other to violence. “He could be a leader for other kids in the area,” Tucker said. “Manny is making great choices so far.”

“I felt good up there. I felt confident,” Manuel told The Californian newspaper after his flight (which was followed by three other solo takeoffs and landings that day). “I will admit it was a little strange not having anyone in the aircraft with me, but everything went well.”

For Manuel, learning how to fly has been transformational. “Learning to fly has changed my life,” said Maya, grinning. “Sean and this program have changed my life.”

It all begins with a Young Eagles flight. That also allows the youths to take advantage of the EAA Flight Plan, including Sporty’s online Learn to Fly course, reimbursement of the cost of their FAA written exam, a free first flight lesson, EAA scholarships eligibility, and much more.

“It’s a very powerful experience to solo an airplane, and now hopefully others will begin to realize they can fly, too,” Tucker added.  

Tucker’s commitment to the EAA Young Eagles program is his way to emulate EAA Founder Paul Poberezny’s example to give back, pay it forward.

“Counting down to the 2 millionth Young Eagle, I am very mindful of this great program and how important it is to the future of flight,” he said.

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