July 24, 2012—Diane Thornton climbed into the cockpit of a T-6 Texan military trainer Tuesday morning and soon was the first adult recipient of an EAA Eagle Flight.
Her pilot, EAA president/CEO Rod Hightower, taxied them off in his warbird for a short flight over the Oshkosh area, and when they taxied back onto Phillips 66 Plaza less than an hour later, Thornton was thrilled.
"It was unbelievable," she said. "What a great experience!"
Her pilot agreed. "There was a smile on her face the whole time. It was fantastic."
Similar to EAA's Young Eagles program, which has allowed more than 1.7 million youths ages 8-17 to get a free airplane ride from EAA members over the past 20 years, Eagle Flights will offer a ride to adults who have always had a love of aviation, but who have not yet acted on that love.
A longtime Texas educator who is now national director of the Learning for Life program, Thornton said her father was a pilot. But since her mother didn't like him taking the children for flights, she only flew with him once.
"But after I got that opportunity, it was in my blood," Thornton said. "I agreed to be the first to take the Eagle Flight because I want others to know it's never too late to pursue your dreams."
Hightower said every pilot experiences joy when introducing someone to aviation. But the program "will allow us to introduce them not only to a great flying experience, but also to the world's greatest community of aviators at EAA."
Hightower invited all EAA member pilots to join the Eagle Flights program. "Join the ranks of those who will rejuvenate aviation for all of us," he said.
Jeff Skiles, EAA's vice president of chapters and youth education, will be leading the Eagle Flights program and said EAA members and chapters have requested a program that allows them to bring people into the industry. "Eagle Flights is about the opportunity to have a structured program where they can give a friend, a neighbor, or a co-worker who has already expressed an interest in aviation a ride, and then have a program to follow up that experience," he said.
While the flight may resemble the Young Eagles program, Eagle Flights goes beyond that. "In the next year we are going to build out a structured connection with flight partners," he said. "An Eagle will be able to call here and talk to a mentor at EAA headquarters. But we're going to use our chapter network as local mentors who can help them find flight-training resources in their local area."
Diane Thorton was the recipient of the inaugural Eagle Flight, courtesy of EAA President/CEO Rod Hightower and his T-6 Texan. (photo by Jason Toney)
Diane Thornton is all smiles thanks to her Eagle Flight. (photo by Jason Toney)