Eleven-year-old Thomas McWalter proudly waved from the cockpit of Dan Murphy’s custom-built single engine airplane as it touched down at the Ocean Shores Municipal Airport.
For the better part of the last half-hour, the youngster was treated to a co-pilot’s seat, a birds-eye view of Grays Harbor, the Pacific Ocean, and on up the coast to where his father, David McWalter, is a Washington State Parks Ranger at the Ocean City State Park. With the cloudless day, the plane ride even included a pass above Westport before turning back to land at Ocean Shores for his waiting family members.
“I didn’t even feel sick,” Thomas told them.
“Today was a Chamber of Commerce day for Ocean Shores,” said his father.
Thomas was one of 33 kids who took advantage of the local EAA Sport Aviation Chapter’s free Young Eagle Airplane rides last week after the Ocean Shores Flag Day Parade. To celebrate National Young Eagles Day, more than 1.5 million youngsters ages 8 to 17 have received free airplane rides over the past 15 years.
EAA was founded in 1953 by a group in Milwaukee, Wisc., interested in building its own airplanes. Through the decades, the organization expanded its mission to include antiques, classics, warbirds, aerobatic aircraft, ultralights, helicopters and contemporary manufactured aircraft.
The rides from Ocean Shores last Saturday were provided by local pilots such as Bill Capron (chairman of the airport board), Fred Hope (retired airline captain), Dave Rowe (certified flight instructor and airplane mechanic), and other experienced pilots from the Harbor. Young Eagle rides have been offered for the past five years in conjunction with the Flag Day celebration.
“We were at capacity most of the day,” Rowe said of the number of rides.
Murphy had two planes on hand for the occasion: the kit-built Vans Aircraft RV plane he built in 2004 from a company based in Aurora, Ore.), and the 1953 Super Cub that was built by Piper for the military and then turned over to civilian use.
“I think everybody remembers their first airplane ride in a small plane,” Murphy said.
Parents or guardians had to be present to sign consent forms for the flights, and the intent of the program is to build interest in aviation at the youth level. The pilots intend to provide free flights again (weather dependent) and hot dogs for youth on Aug. 24 for Airport Appreciation Day at the Ocean Shores Municipal Airport.
Thomas said his only previous plane ride had been in a jet, and he was impressed with seeing the pilot in operation. He noted that Murphy didn’t use his feet when flying, operating the plane with what Thomas said looked like a “big joystick.”
“We went all the way down to the park, and it looked really big,” he said. “It was pretty bumpy.”
“Once you got above tree-top level it was a smooth day up there,” Murphy said.