Zelienople experimental aircraft group gives youngsters free flight time
Brothers Eli and Tanner Gross soared hundreds of feet over Butler County Saturday, enjoying a nearly picture-perfect view of Moraine State Park and Lake Arthur from a small Cessna airplane.
“It was really awesome to see all the crazy stuff,” said Eli, 11, of Seven Fields, adding that he was only a bit nervous when his brother, 13, briefly took the controls from pilot Larry Schaefer.
Six volunteer pilots with the Experimental Aircraft Association Chapter 857, based out of the Zelienople Airport in Franklin, Beaver County, took to the skies for their Young Eagles program, which offers youths a chance for some free flight time. Though the event is held several times a year by the group, Saturday's flights were organized by high school seniors Kyle Gallagher and Tim Jesteadt, both association members and participants in the Young Eagles program.
“I thought this would be a good opportunity to show people what it's all about,” said Jesteadt, 18, of Marshall, a senior at Eden Christian Academy who is working toward his pilot's license.
“Maybe I can get other kids thinking about (flying) as a career,” said Gallagher, 17, of Cranberry, a senior at Seneca Valley High School, who hopes to have his pilot's license within the next couple of months. “I've always liked aviation since I was 5.”
Jesteadt and Gallagher spread the word through their schools about their projects, and 15 children and teens took the free flights. Club members gave them an orientation on the history of flying, and sat them in the cockpit of a plane in an airport hanger and showed them the controls that the pilots use to fly the craft.
Jesteadt took his girlfriend, Cianna Nuzzo, 18, a Seneca Valley senior, on a flight. When they landed, Jesteadt had his father, Ron, hold a sign along the runway asking Nuzzo to go to the prom with Tim Jesteadt. (She said yes, by the way.)
Eli and Tanner Gross are students at Eden, and their mother, Kelly Gross, 41, is a teacher there.
Gross said after the flight that her older son said he “didn't have words to describe” how much he liked it.
Bill Vidonic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.