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REACHING FOR THE SKY

Children who dream of being an airplane pilot will get a chance to test their wings Saturday.

That's when Chapter 282 of the Experimental Aircraft Association will give free airplane rides to people ages 8 to 17 at Clearwater Airpark. The flight rally is part of the EAA Aviation Foundation's Young Eagles program, which is designed to get young people interested in aviation.

"We try to target kids," said pilot Buz Heuchan, coordinator of the local program. "That's the age group where the most benefit comes from."

Fifteen-year-old Brian McGee took his first airplane ride during an EAA flight rally four years ago. "That's what got me interested in flying," he said enthusiastically. "It became one of my favorite sports."

He has been hanging out at Clearwater Airpark since, so much so that pilots there have dubbed him the "airport kid."

Today, they're helping him pay for flight lessons, which he started last December.

EAA pilots hope more youths follow in Brian's footsteps. Their goal is to give 1-million youths an airplane ride by 2003 _ the 100th anniversary of powered flight and the 50th anniversary of EAA, an international aviation association founded in 1953.

While on the ground Saturday, pilots will explain how airplanes work.

"We teach them the basics," Heuchan said. "What makes the plane go up. How to turn it. Why the plane lands to the north one day and to the south the next day." Pilots also will discuss the various safety techniques that they must complete before each flight.

Once in the air, the young passengers will get a chance to handle the plane's controls. "It's exhilarating. It's fun. It's nothing like they've ever experienced before," said Heuchan, 54, who has been a pilot for 30 years.

The planes will range from a six-seat Piper to a two-seat Cessna. All are dual-controlled, and the pilots always are "in command," Heuchan stressed.

Each flight lasts 10 to 15 minutes, with the planes reaching an altitude between 1,000 and 2,000 feet.

Youths who can take flying lessons must be at least 15. The minimum age to take their first solo flight is 16. At 17, they can get a private pilot's license.

"Right now the only thing holding me back is my age," Brian said.

For more information on the Young Eagles program, write to Young Eagles Office, EAA Aviation Foundation, P.O. Box 2683, Oshkosh, WI 54903-2683, or call (414) 426-4831.

If you go

Chapter 282 of the Experimental Aircraft Association will give free airplane rides Saturday to people 8 to 17 years old. The flight rally at Clearwater Airpark, 10000 N Hercules Ave., is part of the EAA Aviation Foundation's Young Eagles program. Registration is at 9 a.m., and there may be a limited number of rides available depending on the number of people who register. People wanting rides should come with their parents to Hangar A2 to register. Call 441-1951 for information.

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