DeKALB – As other kids waited nervously for their turn to go up in the air Saturday at DeKalb Taylor Municipal Airport, Josh Melms, 14, sat relaxed in a chair.
“I’m the hangar bum,” Melms said. “I’ve been here since I was 11, cleaning airplanes in exchange for free flights. My dad thinks I’m crazy, but I want to be a pilot.”
Melms was just one kid of many to take part in the Young Eagles program Saturday, as members of local Experimental Aircraft Association Chapter 241 provided free flights to kids ages eight to 17.
The passengers got to see their home in a whole new way: from 1000 feet above the ground, as the 15-minute flights carried kids as far west as the Northern Illinois University Convocation Center and as far north as the Sycamore rock quarry.
Melms said that airplanes have been his “thing” ever since he read a book about them at the library when he was seven. Now, he’s just waiting until he can start working on his pilot’s license, spending as much time in the air as he can and listening to all the “old-timers” tell stories.
Tim Hunter of DeKalb provided flights for kids during the event. “What they find amazing is everything looks so small,” he said.
Before the flights began, Hunter briefed each child on the airplane, how it works, and what makes it fly.
“I’ve been a pilot for 40 years, starting out at Midway in Chicago,” he said. He joined up with the EAA in DeKalb in 2007.
He was about to take up Avery, 8, of DeKalb. Avery had been on a commercial airplane before, but never anything like this. He looked nervous, kicking his flip-flop back and forth, but when asked, he said was “excited.”
The event was planned by Steve Kopfenstein, a member of the local EAA chapter and Civil Air Patrol.
“There are more pilots retiring than entering the field,” Kopfenstein said. “We hope this event sparks interest in the kids.”
The event was part of a national program founded in 1992, which has taken more than 2 million youth to the skies.
If they leave interested, participants can enter a local flight training program, “Fly America,” held at the airport. Another Young Eagles event will be held 9 to 11 a.m. Aug. 18 at DeKalb Taylor Municipal Airport, weather permitting.