Aviation group gives kids free plane rides over Belfast

Posted June 12, 2010, at 5:36 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2011, at 12:09 p.m.

BELFAST, Maine — Jordan Brown, 10, of Unity watched in awe as he flew over Fort Knox, the Penobscot Narrows Bridge, schools, cars and farms Saturday.

It was the boy’s first airplane ride.

“Look at the ocean,” Brown said, craning his neck to the right and pointing out the small window of the 1976 Cessna Cardinal RG.

“You can see a long ways in the air,” his cousin Jon Thomas, 11, of Brooks replied over his radio headset.

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The two boys sat in the back of the four-person plane Saturday after waiting in line at Belfast Municipal Airport.

The free rides were given to kids ages 8-17 by the local chapter of the Experimental Aviation Association, an advocacy group. Volunteer pilots took out dozens of children for International Young Eagles Day with the goal of inspiring in them a love of flying.

“We like introducing kids to airplanes. It’s not always readily available to them,” said the boys’ pilot and plane’s owner, Duke Tomlin of Monroe.

Tomlin told the boys he started flying planes when he was in high school.

By the time the plane soared past the Penobscot Narrows Bridge and began its flight back toward Belfast, the boys had reached a consensus: This was awesome.

“I want to do this again,” Brown said.

“Start saving your money. Get a summer job in high school and take lessons. That’s what I did,” Tomlin told him.

“I want to fly,” Thomas said.

The smiles didn’t leave their faces until their feet were back on tar, and that is exactly what Peter Webb, the Young Eagles coordinator, wanted.

“We want to bring more lifeblood into aviation,” Webb said Saturday morning as mothers and fathers began to fill out their consent forms. “My dad got me into it.”

Webb said his father worked on an aircraft carrier fixing planes in World War II.

“It has been gnawing at me for years until 10 years ago when my wife bought me flight lessons at this airport. I got hooked,” Webb said.

Webb got his pilot’s license and started building a plane from a kit. His red Van’s Aircraft RV 9A sat on the sidelines as he led children to their designated planes and pilots.

Jody Hart of Prospect brought her grandson to the free event. She heard about it on the radio.

“I couldn’t afford to do it without help,” she said. “This is going to be very special for him. He doesn’t get to do much. His parents are so busy.”

Her grandson William Tripp, 8, had never been in a plane. He said he looked forward to seeing all the birds up close.

Up in the air, Brown and Thomas pointed out tugboats and school buses as Duke banked the plane to begin what would be a smooth landing.

“Jon,” Brown said over the intercom, “this is awesome.”

“Yeah,” Thomas said. “Especially the tilting.”

“We just like to share the fun with people,” Duke said after the wheels touched down on the runway.

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