It’s billed as the flight of your life.
The upcoming two days of free airplane rides for young people in Princeton and Penticton are courtesy of the Penticton chapter of the Canadian Owners and Pilots Association and is called COPA for Kids.
The national program has been around in Penticton for nearly three decades, ever since the Penticton Flying Club first came to be.
“There’s nothing like the smile they have on those flights that you get to see,” said flying club president Ron Johnson, who looks forward to the program each year. “We have a purpose for it; we want kids to get used to aviation and maybe get interested in it. They seem to enjoy it, we get some kids that come back every year.
“We make sure they are having a good time and if there are some who are a little bit more mature in the front seat, and wherever it’s safe, maybe let them steer the plane a little bit.”
The flights are open to young people between the ages of eight and 17 and the first event is in Princeton this Sunday from 9 a.m. to noon.
The flights at Penticton Regional Airport are the following Sunday, May 6, at the same time.
Johnson still recalls his first ride in an airplane.
“It was in Lethbridge and Cessna was promoting schools and for $5 you got a half hour familiarization flight and that sold me on it,” he recalled. “I’ve been flying since ’74 and love it.”
Sharing that experience with kids is important for Johnson in other respects.
“You let the kids see their own house or their school and that’s always exciting, it just gives them a new viewpoint of the world,” he said. “I believe that the more people know and the more ways people have of looking at things, the better off they are, the more open-minded they’ll be.
“I mean yes, it’s only a half hour experience but they get to see something different and to me, that’s opening up the minds to think about things differently.”
With safety foremost in the minds of organizers, the duration and scope of the flights depend on a variety of things including weather.
In Penticton, the flight generally involves a route north to Summerland, east to Naramata and south to Okanagan Falls and back to the airport.
“If we can make some kids interested in aviation and give them another outlet to look at and if some of them turn out to be pilots that’s great or some other part of the aviation game, repair people or navigators or whatever,” said Summerland’s Don Hudgeon, pilot and event organizer. “It’s a lot of fun for us old guys as well. We all like kids and we like showing the kids something they may not know about.
“Back in the old days there used to be a lot more pilots and what we’re trying to do is keep some of that alive. I think it’s becoming necessary, look at the huge pilot shortage around the world now.”
A similar event is scheduled for June 18 in Kelowna and there is another that takes place every second year in Oliver. The next one there will be in 2019 and is put on by the Penticton COPA chapter.
According to Hudgeon, registration online (advised) can be done at copaforkids.org however it is possible to register the day of the event in person.