The looks on the faces of Richard Largent’s young passengers tell him how to prepare them for introductory flights in his Cessna 172.
“They’re doing something without their parents. For a lot of them, it’s a big step,” he said.
Sometimes he opens with a magic trick: He’ll make a butterfly disappear.
“I end up asking the first question before we get going: ‘Are there butterflies in the airplane here?’ Soon they will be gone, and I’m seeing smiles,’” he said.
Experience has given Largent the touch for providing fun intro flights and exchanging lepidoptera for smiles. He has given rides to more than 1,000 youngsters under the Experimental Aircraft Association’s Young Eagles program as an EAA member since 1996.
Largent is part of a team whose other member is his wife, Ginny, who organizes aviation events and coordinates activities for two EAA chapters, including one the Largents helped restore to vitality in North Carolina. They know that the impact of their mentoring and volunteerism goes well beyond igniting a youngster’s interest in aviation.
Parents come away with a new understanding of general aviation airports and the community that inhabits them.
“When we chat with parents, we make folks understand that the general aviation airport is paid for by their tax dollars—it’s their airport,” Largent said. He and Ginny tell them, “It’s your right to come out and enjoy it.”
After that light bulb goes off, the Largents make sure that the parents who bring their kids out to the airport also understand that the airplane ride “is a gift from the pilots.”
That has a big impact.
“They are amazed that people would do that for their child,” Ginny said.
Parents may observe another lasting effect of the flight. The Largents said they get emails from parents on how meaningful the occasion had been for their child, with many parents commenting that their youngsters seem more independent and motivated as a result of having gone off on the aviation adventure.
“They realize that they have choices,” Largent said. “We’d love it to be aviation, but it helps them out in other aspects of their lives as well.”
The Largents’ nurturing of the future of GA earned them the 2011 Phillips 66 Aviation Leadership Award, presented during the annual Young Eagles banquet at AirVenture 2011 in Oshkosh, Wis. They “embody and put into action everything that Young Eagles stands for,” said Rosemary Leone, ConocoPhillips director of GA programs. Phillips 66 Aviation’s Young Eagles Rebate program provides $1 per gallon rebates for Young Eagles flights.
The award presentation was attended by Young Eagles Co-Chairmen Chesley Sullenberger and Jeff Skiles, the crew of U.S. Airways Flight 1549 that landed in the Hudson River after striking geese on climbout from New York City’s LaGuardia Airport in 2009.
At the banquet, Largent was recognized for having flown a total of 1,025 passengers under the Young Eagles program. Ginny was cited as “the backbone of Young Eagle events for EAA Chapter 186 in northern Virginia,” and for organizing and managing events at four area airports, and working with the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) program in cooperation with Frederick County, Md., law enforcement and schools. She also administers scholarship funds, and recruits pilots and volunteers, and provides support for open houses, EAA chapter fly-ins, and airport visits by home-school classes, and Scout groups.
The Largents also made their Cessna 172 available to an aspiring pilot for flight training. In exchange, the future pilot helps with aircraft care and chapter events.
Largent said he had always “been infatuated with airplanes,” but didn’t have vision good enough to make a bid for an airline career. He traded in that idea for flight time with a friend who had become a pilot in a Cessna 150—earning his own pilot certificate in his late 30s. He “stepped up” to a Cessna 172, and soon after became an EAA member. “Ginny stepped up, and we said ‘Let’s be a team and do this,’” he said.
Whether they are contributing their efforts through EAA programs, or working in other aviation forums, the Largents can be found “out there trying to educate about aviation” at schools, fairs, and aviation events in the Washington, D.C.-northern Virginia-Maryland area.
Ginny urged pilots interested in giving introductory airplane rides not to wait for an organized event, if they know a prospective passenger is interested. They also encouraged pilots to make use of the Phillips 66 Aviation Young Eagles Rebate program as one of the resources that will help keep GA growing.
“Companies are accepting the idea that this is the next generation of aviation professionals,” Largent said.