Hudson ditching pilots to chair EAA’s Young Eagles

 - November 2, 2009, 5:47 AM

Pilot, aircraft owner and actor Harrison Ford passed the EAA Young Eagles baton to two now-famous pilots who will serve as co-chairmen of the Experimental Aircraft Association’s program to help introduce youth to aviation.

US Airways captain Chesley Sullenberger and first officer Jeffrey Skiles, who successfully ditched an Airbus A320–US Airways Flight 1549–into New York City’s Hudson River on January 15, took over as co-chairmen of the Young Eagles program at a ceremony held at Santa Monica Airport on September 29. Ford had served as chairman of the Young Eagles program for five years. During that time, more than 500,000 youths flew in the Young Eagles program, including 300 with Ford, and he helped raise millions of dollars to fund the program.

Ford, who learned to fly at age 52, said, “The most important thing I’ve done to this point is to work with EAA and the Young Eagles program. Through this program we provide opportunities for young people to imagine themselves involved in an aviation career. Aviation makes them good citizens, establishing responsibility for themselves, and it is that combination of freedom and responsibility that is so seductive about aviation.”

“When Harrison Ford asked us to take over as co-chairmen of the Young Eagles program,” Skiles said, “I was stunned. I was humbled, but of course I said yes. How could anybody not say yes to such an honor? What we would like to do with the Young Eagles program is to promote the idea that training and preparation and teamwork–which is so much a part of what we do as aviation professionals–can benefit young people trying to decide what they want to do with their lives. Not necessarily even in aviation, but it’s important for whatever you want to do.”

Sullenberger emphasized that the Young Eagles program is “a way to share our passion, and helping young people around the globe find out that they want to share the same passion by exposing them to aviation.” He related his first solo experience at age 16 from a grass strip in Texas as the beginning of his love of aviation. “It was Saturday, June 3, 1967, late in the afternoon. A crop duster was my instructor; he had just mowed the grass on the strip. The smell of fresh-cut grass was in the air, the smell of the warm oil in the engine, the rumble of the wheels as they rolled across this airport. My instructor told me that without him in it, the airplane would lift off sooner and climb faster. I was able to demonstrate my mastery of the airplane, and he actually let me do it again. I suppose that he saw something in me; he saw potential that I was later able to realize. So it’s that passion, it’s that freedom that I wanted to share with others. Flying has been great to me, and it’s been great fun. That’s my work here.”

Since 1992, 42,000 EAA member pilots and supporters have flown nearly 1.5 million young people in EAA Young Eagles flights.