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Young Eagles pilots share magic of flight with young people

SUGAR GROVE – About 1,600 feet above the Aurora Municipal Airport in Sugar Grove, 8-year-old Adithi Arvind of Aurora was seated in the back of a four-seat airplane, and 8-year-old Shreeja Das of Naperville was seated as co-pilot. Flying the airplane was Experimental Aircraft Association pilot John Pawula.

The airplane gained some more altitude before Pawula asked his co-pilot if she’d like to try flying.

Her response? An enthusiastic yes.

After some careful instructions from Pawula, Das took the yoke. It was a picture-perfect day – blue sky, white fluffy clouds, the sun shining. As the airplane coasted over the farm fields surrounding the airport, tiny barns came into view, and even smaller cars moved along the ribbons of road below.

Das quickly learned how touchy the controls were, with a dip about 10 feet, but she settled into the rhythm of things. She steered the airplane to the right of some oncoming clouds, and took a loop around the rural countryside.

All too soon the golden arches of McDonald’s came into view – a signal the airplane was headed back to the airport.

As association coordinator Joe McBride later explained, Pawula never gave up complete control of the airplane. But don’t tell Das that.

“It was awesome,” she said, walking away from the airplane. She briefly explained how the airplane worked; how either pulling or pushing the yoke affected the altitude, and how she turned the airplane.

“Clouds were passing, the barn houses were so small,” she said. “It was quite fast. ... I enjoyed it, [and] I was not afraid at all.”

Past president and 20-year association member Don Horacek said that the purpose of the Young Eagles program is to introduce young people to the art of flying.

“We want to be the spark that lights the fire,” Horacek said of the idea that one of these children might later choose to work in aviation.

Pawula, who obtained his pilot’s license in 1964, has been coming to the Sugar Grove airport to take young people up in his airplane for 22 years. He said he’s flown about 1,000 Young Eagles in his time. A retired director of sales and corporate pilot for La Marche Manufacturing, and flight instructor at DuPage Airport, Pawula said he really enjoys what he does.

“I have such appreciation for the dedication of the pilot,” Das’ mother Chitva Arvind said. “He took each child, one by one. They loved it.”

But McBride said that one of the things that the young people don’t understand is that the pilots are having more fun than they are.

Current association President Mike Baer agreed.

“Haven’t you noticed that the pilots have a bigger smile on their faces than the kids?” Baer said. “We get the biggest kick out of this.”

Baer’s airplane, which he calls his “pride and joy,” is a two-seat Cessna 150. Baer said when he first started flying, he would participate in fly-ins, where pilots would fly in to a specific airport and meet up with each other.

Then he discovered Young Eagles.

“It gives you a good purpose for your pilot’s license,” Baer said. “It’s a blast. I get a one-on-one experience with the kids.”

Baer said he still believes that flying is magic, and he loves sharing that magic with them.

If you go:

Young Eagles flight days

When: 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sept. 25 and Oct. 23

Where: Aurora Municipal Airport, 43W636 Route 30, Sugar Grove

Cost & Info: Flight experiences are for children 8 to 17. There is no cost to participate. Visit for information.

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