The annual Planes, Trains & Automobiles event is this weekend and thousands of youth will flock to the Plant City Airport to take part in the festivities.
Every child dreams of being able to soar among the stars, of reaching out and touching the heavens.Thanks to Plant City’s chapter of the Experimental Aviation Association local youth can turn those dreams into a reality.
During the ninth annual Planes, Trains & Automobiles event children age eight to 17 years old can take a spin through the clouds with the Young Eagles flights where EAA Chapter 1178 members offer their skills and planes for free flights.
The Greater Plant City Chamber of Commerce organizes the annual event to help local youth fall in love with the aviation, automotive and train industries. The lessons have stuck and some of the children that first came years ago have grown up and are now pursuing careers in the aviation field.
“We have had kids that maybe were in Scouts or just came with their families and they take a flight with us and fall in love with flying,” Ed Dasilva, a member of EAA Chapter 1178 and PTA committee member, said. “The get into aviation programs, they go to local aviation schools like the one in Lakeland and they’re now pursuing a career in the industry.”
One such student is Liam Chancey, who participated in the inaugural PTA and by the time he was 17 years old had officially learned to fly. He’s channeled that passion into his future and is currently enlisted in the United States Air Force.
The Chamber said there are many other students who say the exposure to the world of aviation at the annual event is what sparked their interest and led them to pursue their passion as a career.
There’s something for everyone at PTA. The event will have the free flights, Boy Scout Merit Badge opportunities, Cub Scout opportunities, a kid’s play area and a large variety of vendors. There will also be displays and demonstrations involving planes, helicopters, remote control planes, model trains, automobiles, K9 demos, Plant City Police Department and Plant City Fire Department, CSX safety demonstrations and computer flight simulators.
Local aviation schools will also be onsite to talk about their programs. Families walk around and strike up conversations with the many passionate volunteers who are there to educate and inspire the young attendees.
“A lot of people helped me when I was younger,” Dasilva said. “I’m retired now, I’m 74 years old and I’m just trying to give back to the community. Not just me, but the entire EAA Chapter 1178 in Plant City. A lot of kids right now when you ask them what they want to be when they grow up they don’t know. We’re trying to help them get passionate about aviation.”
Dasilva could fly an airplane before he could legally drive a car. He was a teenager and knew with complete certainty he had found his life’s purpose. He said he hopes that same fire can be lit in the hearts of the young attendees every year at PTA.
It goes beyond wanting to simply share their passion with society. The entire world is facing a pilot shortage. Boeing projects the world demand for new pilots will reach 790,000 in the next 20 years. According to the Federal Aviation Administration, there were approximately 827,000 pilots in America in 1987. That number has has decreased by 30 percent over the past 30 years. Yet the industry itself is only continuing to grow as more and more people turn to the skies as their preferred method of travel. Dasilva said he wants the youth to know that they will have a career for life that pays them “more than a decent wage” if they’re willing to pursue that passion into a job.
“If we have just one or two kids that really have an interest we will help them follow that passion,” Dasilva said. “We know how expensive it is, after all we are all pilots ourselves, but there are scholarship programs they can get involved with. There’s so much they can do. If they want help, we can help them.”
The members of the local EAA chapter come from all walks of life and backgrounds. Their combined years of experience is extensive and the mentorship opportunities lying in wait are boundless. The one thing they all share is their passion for flight. The hope is the youth that walk away from Saturday’s event will leave with that same fervor.
The opening ceremony kicks off at 10:30 a.m. and the trophy presentation will be at 2:30 p.m. The event itself runs from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Plant City Airport, 4007 Airport Rd. Registration for the free flights closes at 1 p.m. and is limited to 150 flights that are given out on a first come, first serve basis. Admission is free, but parking is $5.
IF YOU GO
Planes, Trains & Automobiles
When: Feb. 23 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Where: Plant City Airport, 4007 Airport Rd.
For more information: Visit bit.ly/2RFbX1J
Cost: Free to attend, $5 to park