By Joshua Winata
The Cove Herald
LAMPASAS — Cruising through the clouds at an altitude of 1,600 feet, Jackie Cockrell, 7, and her sister Andrea, 9, caught a birds’ eye glimpse of their hometown from a Beechcraft Bonanza aircraft traveling at more than 130 miles per hour.
“I’m going to fly over this road, and you’re going to see what looks like toy cars,” said their pilot, Michael Pinson.
“Hey, I see a house. It’s so tiny!” Jackie exclaimed as they soared over the green hills. “When we fly over Lampasas, we might see my house.”
“Over and out,” she added, imitating Pinson on the two-way radio.
In a uniquely interactive career day, children ages 8 to 17 were introduced to the field of aviation through free flights aboard small two- and four-seat airplanes during the Young Eagles Flight Rally at the Lampasas Municipal Airport.
The event was hosted by Killeen Chapter 542 of the Experimental Aircraft Association, composed of aviation enthusiasts who fly a category of planes built by individual craftsmen instead of on a factory assembly line.
“We have several kids who we flew some years ago who are airline pilots now,” said George Loffert, chapter president. “The idea is just to expose them to aviation, let them see what an airplane ride is about and possibly get them interested in making it a career.”
More than 60 children showed up to claim their free 10-minute flights, but with only five small airplanes, some participants were left waiting more than three hours to board.
Even ominous dark clouds and a light drizzle in the late morning that held up the planes for several minutes did not deter the aspiring aviators. The spectacular views and the incomparable experience of flying were worth the delay.
Pilots maneuvered the planes over the lakes and hills of central Texas before soaring over the city of Lampasas where passengers caught a glimpse of the Spring Ho Festival celebrations below.
“When I was in the airplane, everything looks like the little models that my dad’s friend had,” Andrea said. “Everything was just so tiny!”
All the pilots, flying on a completely voluntary basis, were certified by federal aviation examiners and are members of the Experimental Aircraft Association.
Youth participants underwent a brief safety course and received a presentation about the basics of aerodynamics and the different forces that affect flight.
Before the boarding, pilots reviewed different parts of an airplane and the cockpit controls with their young passengers.
After completing the flight, each participant received a Young Eagles certificate of completion, and their names are entered into an international flight log at the Experimental Aircraft Association headquarters in Oshkosh, Wis.
The Cen-Tex Modelers from Killeen also brought in several model aircrafts that remained on display throughout the day.
A majority of the participants were members of Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts from all over central Texas, including Burnet, Killeen and Harker Heights, working toward their aviation merit badges.
“I’m here because it’s an opportunity for me to get a merit badge,” said Aaron Dunn, 13, of Troop 234 in Killeen. “I’ve never really been up in an aircraft before, so this is also cool to be able to fly.”
For the Cockrell sisters, flying is nothing new. Their father, Gene Cockrell, is a member of the Killeen Pilots Association and helped to coordinate the Young Eagles Flight Rally.
However, the familiarity didn’t make the experience any less thrilling for the girls.
During the plane ride, Andrea sat quietly staring out the window spotted with raindrops, trying to catch a glimpse of familiar landmarks.
“It was really great,” she said. “Along the way, the plane kind of dropped, and it made me a little nauseous, but the rest of the way was cool.”
Jackie, who asked fired questions at the pilot throughout the flight, was much more inquisitive and hopes to follow in her father’s footsteps and become a pilot herself one day.
“I like driving with people. It’s fun,” Jackie said. “I get to talk on the microphone. I always wanted to talk in the microphone.”
Contact Joshua Winata at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (254) 547-6481