Taking the controls of the RV 8 aircraft in the skies over the south Okanagan was the last thing nine-year-old Jovan Gill expected to do when he signed up for the recent COPA for Kids Aviation program.
But that’s exactly what he had an opportunity to do thanks to his pilot Ron Townson of Summerland, a member of the Penticton Flying Club which is part of the Canadian Owners and Pilots Association, which puts on the event.
“It was just really awesome to do that, I knew we were going to fly around and go over there but I didn’t even know I was going to drive a plane, it was really awesome,” said a breathless Jovan, as he unbuckled his shoulder strap in the rear seat of the small bright yellow and purple kit aircraft after touching down. “I think I would definitely like to be a pilot some time and maybe do some backflips.”
Following their return from the 15-20 minute sojourn over Okanagan Lake to Summerland and back, each of the young aviators received a certificate and a personal air log book as mementoes of their experience.
There was no charge to those taking part. All of the costs, including fuel and aircraft, were donated by the individual club members.
Keegan Towns, 12, admitted he had second thoughts about going up in a small plane for the first time when he arrived at the airport that morning.
“No, I didn’t want to do it at all,” he said afterwards. “I just don’t like heights in general but once we were up there it was amazing and the view was breathtaking. I was on the side when the pilot turned so I was looking straight down at the ground and that was really cool. He was a good pilot and really nice.”
Keegan added seeing things on the ground from that altitude reminded him of looking at a Lego (interlocking toy brick set) creation.
When asked if he would consider becoming a pilot, he replied: “I don’t know. It’s kind of iffy for me but I would like to try it again.”
For Summerland’s Don Hudgeon, one of the organizers of the Penticton event, Keegan’s reaction was similar to that of most of the other 100 participants.
“I haven’t seen a kid come out of an airplane yet that didn’t like the experience and for some of them it will be something that will last a lifetime if they choose to go that route,” said Hudgeon, who has been flying for over a half century. “It’s good for us old guys as well. We really like dealing with the kids and just seeing the expressions on their faces.
“For me, just being up there flying is freedom and all these guys here, they are like family and if I can help some kids have that experience, that’s what this is all about.”