For Young Eagles Which Wins, New or Old?

EAA has had more than 1.6 million kids fly in its Young Eagles program since its start in 1992. Photo by Jim Koepnick.

We have a lot of data on the more than 1.6 million young people who have taken an airplane ride in the hugely successful EAA Young Eagles program.

We know the Young Eagle’s age, gender, and where they live. We can also match records and learn which youngsters have advanced to becoming certificated pilots. But I have a question about Young Eagles that I don’t believe the data answers: What kind of airplane made the greatest impression, new or old?

EAA members have flown Young Eagles in every conceivable type of airplane from the most basic to some of the most advanced. EAA members fly the kids in their favorite airplane and that means almost every conceivable type of general aviation aircraft has taken a Young Eagle flying.

What I began to wonder is what impresses a young person most about flying? Is it the very close to nature, low and slow flight of a basic two-seater, or is it the glitter of a glass panel and high performance of an advanced airplane? In other words, what delivers more “wow factor,” a T-Craft or a Cirrus?

Ercoupe NC93337. Photo by Bonnie Kratz.

Since I don’t know the answer to that I – and you – are free to speculate. It would seem that the glass panel with its huge displays, moving maps, even synthetic view of the world ahead would impress a kid who just put down his electronic game or “i-something” device to climb into the airplane.

On the other hand, kids love activities and sports with real action. Clinging to the shear face of a rock, zooming a skateboard up and down the sides of a half pipe, or careening down a snow-covered mountain with both feet locked into what looks like a little surfboard is nothing kids did in my day. And none of those activities involve electronics, except that the best kids can text with both thumbs while snowboarding the steepest run at the resort.

Two of the earliest airplane flights that I can remember in my life spanned the airplane performance gap 50 or so years ago. One was in an Ercoupe and the other in a Bonanza.

What I remember about the Ercoupe is that it was, well, kid size. I wasn’t very big at the time, and the Ercoupe still isn’t. I remember stepping over the door sill and down into the tiny cockpit, but without sitting on a cushion or anything I still had a great view in just about any direction.

The Ercoupe was clearly a flying machine with no pretense of being a luxury car or serious mode of transportation. Only the basics were present. The main fuel tank sat almost in my lap and fuel lines from the wing tank were right there in the open. And I could almost reach out and touch the wings with their fabric covering.

Perhaps the strongest memory of flying in the Ercoupe was sliding down the side windows after takeoff and letting the slipstream blow through. The little Ercoupe is about as pure of a sensation of flying as one could hope for as a kid.

A Bonanza making its way to AirVenture Oshkosh 2011. Photo by Brady Lane.

On the other hand the Bonanza was a purposeful machine. The door closed with a thunk. The interior was on par with the Buicks that my dad favored. And the big Continental rumbled with an obvious authority and strength that impresses any boy, no matter what a powerful engine is bolted to.

I remember the takeoff speed of the Bonanza as being simply amazing. And the climb rate blew away the basic two seat airplanes I had flown in before. There was the landing gear to raise, and the prop control to fiddle with. The Bonanza was clearly an airplane designed to go places.

If you had asked me back then which airplane impressed me most, I don’t know what I would have said, except that I liked both. I didn’t want to choose, but to fly anything and everything.

As soon as I could I learned to fly, but it was in the most basic airplanes – a little Piper Colt and a Cessna 140. Maybe the Ercoupe did have the greatest influence after all.

But then I have been lucky enough to fly the highest-performing civilian airplanes in existence, and I did get to own a Bonanza, and I have used general aviation airplanes for reliable IFR travel for more than 35 years. Maybe it was the Bonanza ride that set me on that path.

We could ask Young Eagles what type of airplane impresses them most, but would the information be of any value? Now that I think about it, the answer is probably no. It’s flying that matters. For those who get it, what you fly matters little. For those who don’t get it, it doesn’t matter either.

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14 Responses to For Young Eagles Which Wins, New or Old?

  1. Mark says:

    You’ve summed it up very nicely. Our only mission is to plant the seed. And the seed doesn’t care if we use a 16-row John Deere planter, or a hand spade, just as long as it lands on fertile ground.

  2. Fred says:

    Regarding the lead in sentence; “We have a lot of data on the more than 1.6 million young people who have taken an airplane ride in the hugely successful EAA Young Eagles program”.

    I’d like to know how many of the 1.6 million kids how many actually became pilots after all is that the major goal of the program? I’ve never see this data printed so if you could address that I would very much appreciate it. How else could you measure the success of the program (outside of 1.6 million smiles) without having this data?

    For me when I was 17 ( 40 years ago) my friend just got his PPL in a 150 after my first flight all I wanted to do was fly. I signed up within a few months of that first ride and flew 140′s. To me a plane was a plane a means to an end which was FLYING!

  3. Mac says:

    Hi Fred,

    Actually, Rod Hightower wrote about the success of Young Eagles in March. A study by the FAA and EAA found that 7.3 percent of all pilots under the age of 35 have had Young Eagle flights. Young Eagles are 5.4 times more likely to become licensed pilots than those who have not had a Young Eagles flight. And two out of 100 Young Eagles who go flying at age 17 become pilots. The study showed that the older the age of the Young Eagle when he or she makes the flight, the more likely they are to become licensed pilots. The program is the success all of us at EAA believed–actually knew–it would be.

    Mac Mc

    • Jeff Boatright says:

      I agree that that a measure of success for the program is number of kids that eventually became pilots. I think that there are additional outcomes that could be considered successes. For instance, might some of these kids later in life have a better understanding of the importance of general aviation airports and airplanes? Possibly a kid who was taken on a YE flight will be less willing to vote for referenda that close airports, or enact curfews, etc. Possibly they will be less prone to complain about “airplane noise” when a Cessna or Piper flies overhead. Possibly they’ll have a richer understanding of their surroundings, their community, and their society.

  4. Fred says:

    Mac this is very encouraging info I will spread it around as it will help when asking for volunteers for a Young Eagles event people to know their efforts are paying off.
    Thanks for the quick reply.

  5. Jim Oeffinger says:

    I have given rides and have seen a lot of rides given, so I can at least judge by some of the reactions I’ve seen. Not a scientific study, but probably pretty reliable. We have one chapter member who gives rides in his R-44. The kids really like the helicopter experience. But without a doubt the favorite, at least at our chapter Young Eagles Rallies, is Arnie Zimmerman’s Breezy. And from the hours people are willing to wait in line at AirVenture for one trip around the pattern, this enthusiasm is not limited to Young Eagles aged kids. The only thing more fun than ridding in that thing is giving rides in it.

  6. Pingback: For Young Eagles Which Wins, New or Old? | Left Seat | Share My Aircraft News

  7. I am so lucky…. My very first young eagle soloed with the a full ride at Embry Riddles… And has signed a contract with the Navy when he finishes….Now at +40 young eagle flights behind me that first one will always standout… At least until another one becomes a pilot… The planes I see kids waiting for the most are the old T-6′s we fly in San Marcos,Tx

  8. Tom Stehler says:

    Honestly, any time period works for me. My young eagles flight was a C-172 that was probably from the 70s or 80s, but if I was in the wright flyer or a brand-new bonanza it wouldn’t have mattered to me. The experience is what really counts. I’m only fifteen, but I’ve flown young eagles and I have scheduled an introductory flight lesson with Twin Cities Aviation. I’ve also spent a little too much time on a simulator I own. So although I do not actually possess a pilot certificate, I’ve been in many planes’ copilot seats before and I can tell anyone that as long as young people such as myself get to fly at all, the type of aircraft really doesn’t change the emotion of the person.

  9. Keith Macht says:

    Young Eagles don’t have to become pilots in order to consider the program a success. It is giving the kids the experience to come back to later in life that is important. The next time an FAA bill comes up on the Senate floor do you think a Senator who was a Young Eagle at one time might give it some more consideration knowing what GA is all about based on their young eagle flight vs the Senator who has only flown large commercial jets? How about the next time a community has to vote on weather or not to close an airport. The more former young eagles in that community the more likely the airport is to survive. Getting young eagles to become pilots is great but there is far more gained in just giving as many of them as possible the experience of flight and GA.

  10. Andrew Kudlacek says:

    Former Young Eagle here…I started off with a Young Eagles flight in the mid-90s and have been hooked since. In 2008 I bought my first airplane and last year finally had the honor of being able to provide that very important first flight to a couple kids at a local Young Eagles event. Flying my first Young Eagles around for a few minutes was an experience I had been looking forward to and will never forget.
    My plane (Piper Colt taildragger) was surrounded by many newer,better looking and well-equiped airplanes but when I walked each Young Eagle towards my plane I was pleasantly surprised to hear them say that my plane is the one they had hoped to go for a ride in.
    Regardless of the type of aircraft, this is a great program and I am glad to do my part to introduce young people to aviation, after all without it who knows where I would be today.

  11. Ken Mercer says:

    It’s great to have some concrete numbers on Young Eagles who have gone on to become pilots, but I have to agree with Keith that this is not the only measure of the success of the program. Not only will the memory of the experience linger with the Young Eagles themselves, just think about all the conversations you’ve had with the parents who brought them to the airport. I don’t think we could have designed a better outreach program if we had tried.

  12. Kim Hunter says:


    My own experience supports the assertion that older Young Eagles are more susceptible to being bitten by the flying bug. It is not surprising. They are close enough to adulthood to realistically see themselves as potential pilots. Many of them have already mastered at least one challenging avocation (snowboarding, piano, student government etc.) and have a good appreciation for the subtle demands required by any activity that is truely worth doing. About a year ago I flew a 16 year old Young Eagle in the foothills of the Sierras. On short final I advised him we would hit sinking air near the runway and not to be alarmed (I’d encountered it all morning) we had already allowed for it. As we rolled out on the runway he exclaimed “I saw the sinking air – That was awesome!!” .

  13. Alex Kovnat says:

    Young Eagles should if possible, be given rides in both a simple plane like the old Piper Super Cub or Tri-Pacer, and a sophisticated retractible landing gear aircraft like the Beechcraft Bonanza (V35B or A36). In addition, Young Eagles should be encouraged to look at various other aircraft, from old Piper J-3′s to big corporate planes like the Beechcraft King Airs and both straight-wing and swept-wing business jets, so they can appreciate the tremendous variety of aircraft which make up the contemporary general aviation world. Such an education would reduce the tendency of many civilians to think of every airplane other than airliners as either a “piper cub” or a “learjet”.

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