Several area children got to take the controls and pilot an airplane in Killeen on Saturday.
The Flying Vikings held its 10th annual flying event at the Central Texas College hangar at Skylark Field on Saturday. The event was held for children ages 6 through 18, who have chronic illnesses or physical disabilities.
Paul Hansen, founder of the Flying Vikings, said some of the children who participate may have ADHD, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome or cancer.
Johnathan Owen of Harker Heights brought his son, Christopher, age 9. Christopher has a severe case of ADHD, so much so that his father says he attends a special charter school in Belton that has a special-needs program that offered more to fit his son’s needs.
Christopher said, “I’ve been on big planes, like, a lot, but this is the first time for a small one.”
Owen said, “This is a great opportunity. The kids are running around, they’re having a blast with each other.”
About 20 children signed up for a flight, coming from all over Central Texas. Five planes and pilots were ready for their passengers.
Killeen SWAT members came out to lift children into and out of the front of the plane alongside the pilot, with a parent sitting in the back seat.
Once the plane reached a high enough altitude, the pilot handed the yoke over to the child to steer the plane. Each flight lasted 20 to 30 minutes, and at the end, each child was presented with an authentic flight certificate.
Brandee Peterson of Belton brought her 7-year-old daughter Sophie, who has Down syndrome.
“She loved it!” Peterson said. “She took the control; the pilot really interacted with her, and just let her do it.”
“A lot of these kids are used to just hospitals and clinics, so this is different for them. It’s something that 99 percent of people will never get to do,” Hansen said. “They’re not going [back to school] to play football or baseball, but they can go back to school and say they flew a plane.”
Many other people and organizations came out to show their support. Each plane and every service was donated for the event.
The Harker Heights Chamber of Commerce and the Harker Heights Fire Department were present, the Harker Heights Lions Club was there to give free vision screenings, the Harker Heights Public Library and the Friends of the Library were there, and many local restaurants donated food and beverages for the families present.
Owen said, “This is almost like a support group; this is a community right here.”
“My whole mission is about the kids,” Hansen said, adding he finds the experience, “very, very humbling. ... I’m blessed to be in a position to be doing this.”
For more information about the Flying Vikings, go to www.flyingvikings.org.