Children who look longingly skyward when an airplane passes will have an opportunity to make their dreams of flight a reality.
On Saturday, the local chapter of the Experimental Aircraft Association will offer free plane rides to children ages 8 to 17, said Albert Hathy, president of the organization’s Helena chapter.
But the event that will be held at the Montana Aeronautics building at 2630 Airport Road isn’t an all-day affair and will only be from 9-11 a.m., hours when the air is cool and those free plane rides are more likely to be smooth.
The roughly 15-minute flights will be over the Helena Valley, Hathy said, explaining that the rides are part of the EAA’s Young Eagles Program, which seeks to give children and young adults their first free ride in an airplane.
There will also be a free pancake breakfast at the event.
“The EAA was founded in 1953 by a group of individuals in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, who were interested in building their own airplanes,” according to the organization’s website. “EAA expanded its mission of growing participation in aviation to include antiques, classics, warbirds, aerobatic aircraft, ultralights, helicopters, and contemporary manufactured aircraft.”
Some of the airplanes that will be on display this Saturday will have been built by those who fly them, while others will be older aircraft that have been restored.
“Homebuilding, as we call it, of aircraft is becoming increasingly popular. The Wright Brothers were the original homebuilders, but few know that today any average person can actually build and fly their own airplane,” Hathy, who is also a pilot and teaches in the Helena College aviation maintenance and technology program, wrote in an email.
“We want to expand the awareness of the vast, amazing world of general aviation and how rewarding an activity it can be.”
“Today, private individuals build and register between 600 and 1,000 new, single-engine, pistol-powered aircraft in the U.S. every year, more than all the commercial aircraft manufacturers combined,” he noted in his email.
While attending the EAA chapter’s event will be a chance to experience flight in a small aircraft, it will also be an opportunity to consider careers in aviation as pilots and mechanics.
Astronaut Neil Armstrong, who became the first person to step on the lunar landscape on July 20, 1969, according to online sources, started out as a child building model aircraft, Hathy said.
Hathy’s first ride in an airplane came between his junior and senior years of high school when he and a friend saved money and went to their small town’s airport in Ohio to ask for a ride.
“It never left me. We were hooked,” he said of the thrill from that first flight in a Cessna 172.
His 1946 Globe Swift, a two-seat prop airplane that sits in a hangar at Helena Regional Airport, is being worked on before he will return it to the air.
The upcoming event will offer an opportunity for children and parents to talk to those who build and restore airplanes, Hathy said.
“While airshows featuring jet demonstration teams are popular, and flying in airplanes has become ho-hum -- not much different than a bus ride -- general aviation is where average people can personally touch, feel and experience the thrill of aviation,” he wrote.