Pilots donate plane rides to help Special Olympics

Doug Kell of Ellsworth (left) shares a laugh with Paul Houston of Dedham, a Special Olympian, while flying his 1979 Grumman Cougar for the Penobscot County Special Olympics' annual Fly-In fundraiser Saturday, Oct. 4, 2008. A dozen pilots lent their time and aircraft to raise money for Special Olympians.  Buy Photo
BANGOR DAILY NEWS PHOTO BY BRIDGET BROWN
Doug Kell of Ellsworth (left) shares a laugh with Paul Houston of Dedham, a Special Olympian, while flying his 1979 Grumman Cougar for the Penobscot County Special Olympics' annual Fly-In fundraiser Saturday, Oct. 4, 2008. A dozen pilots lent their time and aircraft to raise money for Special Olympians. Buy Photo
Posted Oct. 04, 2008, at 4:33 p.m.
Last modified March 20, 2011, at 6:18 a.m.
Daniel Butler, 20, of Brewer, a Special Olympian, looks out the window of Doug Kell's 1979 Grumman Cougar after a flight for the Penobscot County Special Olympics' annual Fly-In fundraiser Saturday, Oct. 4, 2008. A dozen pilots lent their time and aircraft to raise money for Special Olympians.  Buy Photo
BANGOR DAILY NEWS PHOTO BY BRIDGET BROWN
Daniel Butler, 20, of Brewer, a Special Olympian, looks out the window of Doug Kell's 1979 Grumman Cougar after a flight for the Penobscot County Special Olympics' annual Fly-In fundraiser Saturday, Oct. 4, 2008. A dozen pilots lent their time and aircraft to raise money for Special Olympians. Buy Photo

BANGOR, Maine — The wind was palpable for the first 100 feet or so of elevation, gen-tly rocking the tiny plane from side to side.

Once the aircraft ascended to an elevation of more than 1,200 feet, though, it floated effort-lessly above Greater Bangor, casting a spotlight on the changing leaves and capturing the stillness that autumn brings.

Not a bad way to spend a Saturday.

For the dozens who paid the rather reasonable admission of $20, that’s exactly what they got.

Pilots from the local chapter of the EAA, or Experimental Aircraft Association, donated their time, fuel and planes Sat-urday to offer discount rides to patrons out of the general avia-tion terminal at Bangor Inter-national Airport.

All proceeds benefited the Penobscot County Special Olympics, which allows ap-proximately 600 area children and adults to participate and train in a number of different athletic competitions.

Jim McCurdy, one of the pi-lots, said the experience gave him a unique window into the lives of area residents living with developmental or intellec-tual disabilities, many of whom were passengers.

“Recreational flying is en-joyable anyway, but seeing the looks on some of their faces when you get up above the tree line and look down is some-thing else entirely,” said McCurdy, who lives in Hermon. “It’s pretty special.”

Saturday’s annual “fly-in” fundraiser aimed to raise about $1,000, according to Carol Ryan, one of the event’s organizers. The event was held for many years at Dewitt Field in Old Town but moved to BIA this year.

Ryan said it’s always one of the more popular events affili-ated with the local Special Olympians.

“The pilots love it, and of course this is a great time of year to be up in a plane,” she said.

EAA is a worldwide group for general aviation enthusiasts that has more than 150,000 members, including about 40 in eastern Maine, according to its Web site. About a dozen offered flights from six planes Satur-day.

Another amateur pilot, Brian Bowdoin of Hermon, who is part of the Air National Guard Flying Club, participated in Saturday’s fly-in by accident.

“I walked in and saw what was going on. I had a little time, so I thought I would donate a flight,” he said.

Daniel Butler, a 20-year-old from Brewer who has autism, was one of many passengers.

“He loves flying; loves to look out the windows,” his mother, Francie Butler, said as she watched from the ground while her son boarded the small Cessna 172 and took off. “Daniel has always been active in Spe-cial Olympics so we like to vol-unteer at these fundraisers.”

The planes flew north toward Pushaw Lake in Orono before circling back around to Veazie down the Penobscot River. The loop took about 15 minutes, and most agreed it was worth every penny.

“I got to fly the plane,” one teenage boy said gleefully as he disembarked.

BIA also partnered this year with the Penobscot County Special Olympics to offer dis-count fuel to the pilots. McCurdy said most of the small planes cost $60 an hour or more to operate.

“I don’t think you’re going to find a better deal for a plane ride than $20,” Ryan said.

erussell@bangordailynews.net

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