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Young Eagles

Free airplane flights Saturday over the Valley promise to give area youths a new perspective.


PACOIMA — Cecelia "Ceci" Stratford, a Burbank resident and project analyst for Union Bank, is also a pilot and certified flight instructor who readily admits, "I work so I can fly."

Her love of flying is reflected in her volunteer work with a pilot's organization that will offer free airplane rides Saturday for youths ages 8 to 18 at Whiteman Airport in Pacoima.

The 15-minute flights above the Valley expose children to new experiences and help them to discover the possibilities in aviation, Stratford said recently.

The Experimental Aircraft Assn., which counts most U.S. pilots as members, hopes to "take up" one million children before 2003, the centenary of the Wright brothers' flight in 1903.

Stratford estimates the association is already halfway to its goal.

The association's Valley chapter offers Young Eagle Flights one Saturday a month. The planes are factory-made models rather than the experimental craft that association members often build or own, Stratford said.

The chapter's pilots donate their time to provide the flights--as many as 80 a month--and Comarco, the company that operates Whiteman Airport, donates the airplane fuel.

"What's most fulfilling for me has been taking up Boy Scout groups of two and three at a time," Stratford said. "Their eyes were so big. They were jumping for joy. They just can't believe they're doing this [flying]."

On a recent flight with 12-year-old Michelle Mutti, a Millikan Middle School student, the reaction was calmer because Michelle had already taken her first plane ride two years earlier, Stratford said. Stratford said the experience proved so memorable that Michelle resolved to seriously pursue a career in aviation.

"It stopped my interest in an acting career," Michelle said. "I decided to start getting my grades higher so I could get into the Navy and become an air traffic controller."

To take a flight by the Experimental Aircraft Assn., a child must be accompanied by a parent or guardian who can sign a permission slip and wait on the ground while the "Young Eagle" takes a spin north above Newhall Pass to Magic Mountain and back over Santa Clarita.

The program, which begins at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, will start with a visit to the Whiteman air control tower and a guided tour of a plane by a pilot who explains how everything works.

After a flight, each child receives a certificate of participation and his or her name is entered in the Experimental Aviation Assn.'s log book.

Call (818) 725-4AIR for reservations. The entrance to Whiteman Airport is just east of San Fernando Road on Osborne Street.

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