Forget the video games and flight simulators, 13-year-old Jacob Gagnon has flown the real deal.
Although still a few years away from getting his driver’s licence, it was thanks to the COPA (Canadian Owners and Pilots Association) for Kids program he had the unique opportunity.
In fact, the local teen had so much fun he was back of the Penticton Flying Club recently for another opportunity to take to the friendly skies.
“Way cool,” was his description of operating the controls of a small, single-engine Cessna during his first flight.
“I was a little scared at first but after that it was really fun and I just can’t wait to do it again.”
“It’s so neat sitting at the controls and just how touchy they are when you move your hands.”
During the day he and nearly 100 other kids had an opportunity to go with experienced pilots for a 20-minute ride north to Naramata and back.
Calliste Murray, 14, was surprised at just how different the perspective was from 800 feet above ground level.
“It was just really neat, looking down and seeing how small things are from up there; you just don’t realize it when you’re here,” she said after touching down.
“I think this is really great because it gives kids a chance to get involved in aviation and it sparks an interest in aviation.”
Most of the young passengers admitted to being a little nervous prior to the flight but all agreed afterwards they were glad they decided to go.
Don Hudgeon is one of the organizers of the program and definitely believes in love at first flight, although he agreed that initial experience can be a little frightening for most of the young people.
“When they first get in the airplane they’re scared but when they come out they’re not,” he said while loading another group into a waiting Cessna.
“I guess we’re still always really amazed when the kids actually get in our airplanes and go for that flight, but I haven’t seen a kid yet come out of the plane afterwards and say: ‘Aw, that wasn’t much.’ They all have a smile on their face and they look pretty happy about it.”
The purpose of the program, which takes place at many other airports in the Okanagan Similkameen, is to introduce young people to aviation at an impressionable age.
Everyone involved volunteers their time and use of the aircraft.
“There is no remuneration, and what I think the other pilots get out of it personally is just the satisfaction of having a bunch of really happy kids,” said Hudgeon, who got his pilot’s licence at the age of 21 shortly after his first flight. “And who knows? They may end up taking it up as a career or a hobby and that’s the object of the whole exercise.
“After all, most of us in the aviation community are getting a little long in the tooth because we did it because there wasn’t as much for kids to do then as there is now.”
In addition to the actual flying, the young people also had an opportunity for a brief ground school and according to organizers, are welcome to return next year.