Brandon Rakes, local chapter president of the Young Eagles program, is working to create stepping stones for kids in the community that want to become aviation professionals — through the Young Eagles, high school aviation programs, remote control aircrafts and flight simulators.
“We start at the grassroots level with the Young Eagles and we have a paving stone for them in high school so they can do some aviation in high school and they can continue to take a college course. That’s just part of the vision that we are working on,” said Rakes.
The Young Eagles is a national program that was established in 1992 and the local branch is located at the Chehalis-Centralia Airport. The program involves licensed pilots volunteering their time to take young people on free flights to share the world of aviation with them.
The pilots with the Young Eagles program can take young people on flights year-round, but the big day of flying is held the weekend of Chehalis Fest in July and this past July Rakes said there was over 200 kids in attendance.
The Young Eagles program is seeing success nationally as well. Dick Knapinski, with the National branch, told The Chronicle about the impact he has seen because of the program.
“There are some numbers that we can easily show, such as more than 20,000 licensed pilots under age 40 in the U.S. who got their first flight as a Young Eagle, or seeing former Young Eagles now in every college aviation program in the country and in all military aviation programs,” he said.
Rakes who is also the Airport Operations Coordinator at the Chehalis-Centralia Airport, mentioned the massive benefit of having an airport right in our community that can be utilized to spark an interest in aviation in young people through the Young Eagles program.
“I think right now there’s a huge shortage in aviation professionals and we are going to see aviation change a lot in the next several years. So for us, I think it’s very important to help people learn more about aviation and to discover if a career in aviation is something they desire,” said Rakes.
The Young Eagles are getting ready to adopt a program that will make learning about aviation more accessible to young people. Through a partnership with the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA) the local Young Eagles chapter can provide the experience of constructing and flying a remote control aircraft and using a flight simulator. Rakes said a remote control aircraft was how he began dabbling in aviation at the age of 15.
“The principles of flight are exactly the same. The center of gravity on a model is the same consideration as a real airplane,” he said.
After kids get a taste of aviation in the Young Eagles program, they can then enroll in the Aviation S.T.E.M program that is offered at W.F. West High School and then continue in college.
Rakes said Centralia High School is in the process of adding an aviation course and he has been working with Centralia College on getting an aviation program stated there as well.
“We are definitely working on creating some paving stones for these kids… there’s a large demand for those kinds of jobs. It’s not just a fun thing to do, it’s a career and it’s a high paying career,” said Rakes.
Knapinski and Rakes shared with The Chronicle their favorite aspect about being involved in the Young Eagles program.
“Seeing the kids get excited about aviation. I think every person is somewhat fascinated by flight. That doesn’t mean everyone wants to be a pilot but just the magic of flight itself and when you can share that with these kids and light that spark it’s pretty amazing,” said Rakes.
Knapinski’s answer echoed the same notion as Rakes’.
“Personally, my favorite part is seeing the reaction of the kids when they get involved… I don’t know who has more fun, the kids or the pilots. Flying Young Eagles reconnects pilots with why they learned to fly in the first place,” he said.