Josh Maihle of Columbus still remembers the first airplane ride he ever took. “I remember I was just 6 years old and riding in the backseat of a small, yellow private plane,” says Maihle. “It was a gorgeous summer evening, and as we left the ground, it was the most amazing feeling I’d ever experienced — I felt like Superman.”
The experience shaped the rest of his life. He went on to become a professional flight instructor, which he did for many years. It may never have happened if not for Bob Jenkins of Fredericktown.
Bob and his wife, Jill — members of Consolidated Cooperative in north-central Ohio — own two small, vintage aircraft. “We own a 1947 Cessna 120 and a 1946 Piper J-3 Cub,” says Bob. “I also co-own a 1972 Cessna 172 with my son, Shawn.”
Jenkins has been flying for more than 50 years, ever since his father taught him to fly. He made his first solo flight at age 16 and earned his private pilot’s license in his early 20s.
“What I enjoy most about flying is the feeling of freedom when I’m up in the air, and the different perspective you get looking down on the earth,” Jenkins says. “Flying, for me, can turn a mediocre or even a bad day into a good day. Most of my flights now are not long, cross-country trips, but rather just flying over the neighborhood near our home on evenings with calm winds.”
Jenkins also enjoys taking young people on their first airplane ride; he estimates that he has taken hundreds of kids up for their “first flight,” as he did for Maihle way back when.
“Their reaction is usually one of excitement in anticipating the flight and then, upon landing, they’re very glad they did it. It gives them a real sense of accomplishment,” he says. “I remember one little girl who at first was hesitant to go up, but once we landed she asked to go again, so I took her for a second ride.”
If you’re a parent or grandparent who would like to give a child the gift of a unique, new experience, there’s a way to arrange a “first flight” for free. “The Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) is a nationwide organization of aviation enthusiasts with chapters in every state,” says Jenkins. “Many of our members volunteer to take young people on their first airplane ride at no cost. It’s called the Young Eagles program, and more than 2.1 million kids, ages 8 to 18, have safely participated thus far.”
Whether a young person eventually decides to become a pilot or not, kids today are in need of positive adult role models and wholesome life experiences more than ever. Who knows, maybe a “first flight” could change the direction of your young person’s life — it did for Josh Maihle.
W.H. “Chip” Gross is Ohio Cooperative Living’s Outdoors Editor.