Dozens of local pilots help introduce kids to the world of flight with free airplane rides through the Experimental Aircraft Association’s Young Eagles program. Flights head out of Arlington Municipal Airport and out of Paine Field, often tied to aviation events.
The EAA recognizes pilots once they’ve made their 100th Young Eagles flight.
Greg Bell, of Edmonds, was the most recent local pilot to be recognized in that select group.
Question: How long have you been flying?
Answer: Since 2001.
Q: What got you into it?
A: Oh, various things. I wanted to do it since I was 10 years old and we flew for a scenic flight out of the Bellevue Airport, which no longer exists. Plus a co-worker took me out once to the San Juans. I thought it was cool — the freedom and stuff. A few years later, I started training.
Q: Do you have your own plane?
A: Yes, I have for a little over four years. It’s called a Diamond Star DA40.
Q: What is Young Eagles?
A: It’s basically giving free flights to kids 8 to 17 to let them experience general aviation, try to get them interested.
Q: Do you have any favorite memories from your flights with kids?
A: I took up three brothers once, age 8 to age 14. The 8-year-old was being very quiet. He was in the back seat, and I asked him if he was OK. And he said it was the best day of his life. That really warmed my heart.
The parents come up afterward a lot and thank me, and I like that a lot too. They’re very appreciative.
On (Paine Field) Aviation Day, when they open the gates it looks like a race almost. The kids run to the registration tents to sign up. Some kids do it year after year.
We’ve had kids who come back who are pilots now and tell us that’s how they get started, and that’s very satisfying. That hasn’t happened to me yet.
Q: Where do you normally take the kids?
A: We usually go out over Whidbey Island and back. It’s usually a 15- or 20-minute flight. We have a set route for safety. We’ve flown over 100 kids in one day once.
Q: Personally, what are your favorite destinations for flying? Both in the sky and on the ground?
A: Usually we go up on Saturdays and go somewhere for breakfast or lunch. A lot of the airports have nice restaurants. So far I’ve also been to the big air show in Oshkosh in Wisconsin in the summer. And also the last two years I’ve taken my wife up and down the coast. Catalina was really cool. It’s nice to fly there rather than take a ferry from LA. It’s a really neat airport on a 1,600-foot cliff.
Q: What is it about flying that keeps you seeking the skies?
A: I always refer to a quote from Charles Lindbergh. There’s variations on it. But it’s: “Aviation has it all. Science, beauty, freedom, and adventure.” I’ve always been a technical person and scientific — I know the physics of it. My wife and I love to look at the scenery. And just the freedom to go on a trip — I can be at Paine Field and in the air within 20 minutes. … You meet a lot of nice people too. I have a lot of friendships that have come out of it.
Q: Will increased commercial flights out of Paine Field affect you?
A: Yes, somewhat, but not too badly I think. Just a little bit more security. Bellingham’s had a lot of commercial flights for a long while and they coexist with general aviation just fine.
Q: What do you do for your career?
A: I’m about to retire but I’m an engineer for Verizon Wireless and have been for 27 years.
Q: Do you have retirement plans?
A: I was thinking about getting a commercial license and getting a flying job — not a big airline or anything, but something.
Q: When you’re on land, what else do you enjoy doing?
A: Photography, and videography also. Skiing. Brewing beer. I’m pretty into listening to music. Reading. Computers. One of my biggest interests is long-distance cycling. I have lots of hobbies. I’m trying to think of some new ones for retirement. I’ll learn to golf.
Q: You have a black-and-white photograph on your instrument panel. Who is it?
A: That’s my late father who was in the Army OSS (Office of Strategic Services, a predecessor of the CIA).
Young Eagles pilots are entered in the “World’s Largest Logbook,” which is on permanent display at a museum in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Among the local EAA Chapter 84 pilots listed are James McGauhey, of Marysville, who leads active volunteers with 248 flights. In all, just 10 local pilots have logged 100 or more flights since the program began in 1992.
Learn more at www.youngeagles.org.