VERNON TOWNSHIP — His helicopter tour of the skies above Crawford County lasted only about five minutes — long enough to rise 500 feet above the earth, take a spin out toward Conneaut Lake and spot three storm cells headed east — but those five whirlwind minutes are certain to remain emblazoned in the memory of 8-year-old Rory Ament.
“It was awesome,” Ament said as he and Marc Ament, his grandfather, ducked their heads and made their way out from under the chopper’s spinning rotors. “I was so high and I could see everything!”
Ament’s bright-eyed reaction to the familiar but still seemingly magical experience of lifting off and touching back down was precisely the point of the 22nd annual Wings and Wheels Fly In held Sunday at Port Meadville Airport, according to Diane Tracy.
Tracy, president of the Meadville Chapter 1194 of the Experimental Aircraft Association, which organizes the event, said that while the Fly In is the club’s only fundraising event of the year, the real goals are to promote aviation, especially among young people like Ament, and provide some fun for the community.
“We’ve got a lot of people out here,” Tracy said as she surveyed the airport grounds from under the shade of the main hangar. “A lot of times, it just takes somebody going in and sitting in a plane like that and getting an idea — it just sparks your interest. That’s all it takes.”
The formula proved irresistible to the younger Ament. After some Spider-Man-style face painting and a few moments behind the controls of a STAT MedEvac chopper on display for the event, Ament and his grandfather headed over to the line for helicopter rides provided by Spiker Helicopters of Zelienople.
A delay as the entire Spiker crew attended to maintenance concerns didn’t deter the enthusiasm of either of the Aments.
The dual sight of youthful enthusiasm and aircraft maintenance checked off two of the days’ most important boxes for Tracy. Despite low cloud ceilings that prevented some pilots who had planned to participate from flying in and some afternoon rain, Tracy was impressed by the early crowds and excited about the future.
“There will be so many job openings in aviation in the next few years,” she said. “We’ve got this huge void of people that could go into aviation.”
In hopes of filling some of that void, the EAA offers its Young Eagles program in the spring and fall, Tracy said, taking up dozens of local kids between 8 and 17 years old on free flights from Port Meadville to Conneaut Lake and sometimes even over their own homes. More than 30 participants took to the skies in May for the most recent Young Eagles event.
“The EAA tries to introduce people to the world of aviation that may not otherwise have a chance,” Tracy said. “Airline pilots, air traffic controllers, ground crew — they are crying for pilots now, there’s such a shortage.”
Chad Baker is part of that booming aviation business as an employee at Acutec Precision Aerospace Inc. in Meadville — and it was at work that he won free tickets for a ride in a six-seat, single-engine Beechcraft Bonanza. He and his mother, Rita Baker of Hadley, were waiting on the somewhat shorter line for plane rides while Ament was enduring the helicopter maintenance delay.
Both Bakers had been up in a small craft before, but that didn’t lessen the appeal of the experience.
“It’s an adrenaline rush,” Rita said.
“It’s fun,” Chad said. “It’s a little bit exciting, a little bit scary.”
Noticing a look from a teenager waiting to take the same flight, he quickly added, “But not too scary.”
Mike Crowley can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
YOU CAN FLY
Meadville Chapter 1194 of the Experimental Aircraft Association meets on the third Tuesday of every month in the Port Meadville Airport conference room. For more information on the free flights for kids from 8 to 17 years old offered each spring and fall through the "Young Eagles" program, see the club's Facebook page or its website, 1194.eaachapter.org.
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