BY KEN LITTLE
Skies were overcast Saturday morning, but the weather was just fine for "young eagles" to soar for the first time.
Eleven participants between the ages of 8 and 17 took flights as part of the Young Eagles program at Greeneville Municipal Airport, sponsored by Experimental Aircraft Association, Local Chapter 1355, which is based in Greeneville.
Because of the inclement weather, another Young Eagles event will be held from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, May 4.
Those who participated Saturday were glad they showed up.
"It was fun. I liked dropping (in the airplane)" and experiencing the sensation of negative "G's," said 13-year-old Conner Smith, of Chuckey.
Conner said he will consider becoming a pilot.
Lori Smith, Conner's mom, also enjoyed the 25-minute flight, which went over the Nolichucky River dam, above Hensley Airport and back to the Greeneville airport.
"It was OK, except when we went up and dropped," Smith said with a smile.
The four-seat Cessna 182 airplane was piloted by Jerry Hope.
Hope, a retired commercial pilot with US Airways, has been participating in the program for six years. He enjoys raising awareness of aviation among young people.
Participants receive a certificate confirming their flight that is registered at the EAA's AirVenture Museum in Oshkosh, Wis.
The threat of rain kept the number of Young Eagle participants down on Saturday. Past events have attracted much larger numbers, organizers said.
But flying conditions were fine, Hope said.
"It was actually very favorable for first flighters. It was real smooth. It didn't affect the visibility at all," Hope said as he prepared to take up a family group.
"I like to watch their reactions for the first time," said Hope, of Afton.
The Young Eagles program provides a valuable chance for younger people to experience flight, he said.
"You don't get an opportunity to do it anymore. It seems aviation is taking a back seat" to other leisure activities for young people, Hope said.
Sherry Hensley, Young Eagles coordinator for Chapter 1335, said the program has remained popular among young participants in the years it has been offered in Greeneville.
The Young Eagles First Flight program was started in 1992 by famous test pilot Chuck Yeager, Hensley said.
Yeager's goal was to give children one million free flights by the 100th anniversary of the Wright Brothers' first flight, in 2003. The goal was met, surpassed and the program continues today, Hensley said.
The current national Young Eagles chairman is Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, a retired airline captain and aviation safety expert who became a national hero when he successfully ditched a US Airways flight in the Hudson River off Manhattan, New York City, on Jan. 15, 2009, after it struck a flock of Canada geese.
All 155 passengers and crew aboard the aircraft survived.
Before each flight Saturday, pilots briefed Young Eagle participants about their airplanes and other facts about flying, Hensley said.
The Young Eagles event is offered in the spring and fall each year at Greeneville Municipal Airport.
It has helped shape the future of some local youths.
At least one of the program's participants went on to attend the U.S. Air Force Academy, and others became private pilots, Hope said.