Plant City’s EAA Chapter 1178 is rekindling the love of flying in the heart of local youth.
Plant City’s chapter of the Experimental Aviation Association has been fighting to help people find a love of flying for years. Each year it, along with a variety of other organizations, hosts the renowned Planes, Trains and Automobiles event.
Arguably the most exciting aspect of the event is the EAA Young Eagles program where Chapter 1178 members offer
their skills and planes for free flights for children of eastern Hillsborough, southeastern Pasco and western Polk counties.
What many don’t realize is that the chapter goes above and beyond and offers rain-out flight days throughout the year to ensure every child that wishes to go soaring has a chance to float among the clouds. In June, the group took 25 students up and on October 27 they plan on giving flights to anyone else that is interested.
“In the last decade that we’ve been taking kids and helping kids in the program, we now know that we have four of them that are actually flying commercially and one is a second officer in an airline already, and he got his first flight with us back in the late 90s,” Tom Penrose, EAA Chapter 1178 member, said.
The backgrounds of the members range from retired Air Force pilots to businessmen who simply picked up flying as a hobby. They are all highly trained, pass background checks and have impeccable insurance on their planes.
The chapter meets the third Saturday of each month at 9 a.m. at the Plant City Airport and welcomes anyone interested in aviation. There are nearly 30 members currently and several come all the way from Kissimmee and Tampa to take part.
Though their walks in life may be different, each member wants to give back to the community as much as they can.
After the last hurricane, several members took flights to the Florida Keys to bring supplies to those in need. They participate in the Toys for Tots campaign each year and their pilots often volunteer their services and planes for angel flights if the need arises.
“We give back as much as we can, but another thing this group does is we help each other become better pilots,” Rich Glorioso, chapter member, said.
Patrick Livezey agreed, saying when he had an engine lose power on his plane he was able to safely land it in a grass field. The experience they all learn from each other helps them be their greatest selves in the air.
The group said they hope to see younger pilots or interested members join the group. Across the globe there is a pilot shortage, which has altered the way airlines and the military plan their growth.
Part of the shortage is due to Congress upping the required flying hours pilots need to fly commercially from 250 hours to 1,500 hours. It currently costs an average of $9,000 to get a private license, which also inhibits many from pursuing the feat. A larger issue is there simply aren’t enough interested parties to begin with.
“Historically, flying was a family event,” Michael Chancey, chapter member, said. “They would say, ‘My dad flew in World War II’ or ‘My dad flew in Korea’ and then they would fly for the airlines. Families would go watch planes take off at airports. Children fell in love with flying. You just don’t see that often anymore.”
Watching children fall in love with aviation is a driving factor behind the EAA Young Eagles Program.
“That’s the key of aviation,” Mike Windom, chapter member, said. “You get to do things and see things that you otherwise never would get to. You can see the world. It’s a form of freedom, of escape that nothing else offers.”
Local Boy Scouts also use the aviation event to further their education. They learn how to read charts and all about flying. Over the years they’ve helped Scouts earn approximately 300 merit badges.
The group said it also has plans in the works to get local schools more involved and encourage aviation education for youth across the area.
Kids can sign up for flights and to get involved at the EAA webpage or by contacting Chancey at [email protected].