Shaelea Alexander of Elgin barely remembers the first time she rode in an airplane, at age 4 on a family trip to Walt Disney World in Florida.
But the 10-year-old won't forget the ride she got Saturday at Lake in the Hills Airport, compliments of the Young Eagles flying group. In fact, it helped her decide she might become a pilot some day. "It was fun to see the world from up there, in a different way," she said.
Shaelea was among about 50 children ages 8 to 17 who got free small-plane rides during the event organized by the Experimental Aircraft Association Chapter 790, based in Barrington. The pilots volunteered their time, planes and fuel to introduce children to the beauty of aviation, said Nancy Blazyk, Young Eagles coordinator for the chapter, which regularly files out of Lake in the Hills.
"We do this to give children a taste of what our passion is. I've had my license for 28 years, and I'm still excited about it," Blazyk said.
Veteran pilot Ole Sindberg of Cary, a former United Airlines pilot, estimated he's given rides to about 350 children over the last couple of years. Overall, the EAA has done that for about 1.5 million kids, he added. "I got bitten by the bug at an early age, and it's still with me," the 78-year-old pilot said.
Friends Joshua Brewer of Lake in the Hills and Steven Tarsitano of Algonquin, both 14, said they had a great time on their ride in a four-seater plane. "It was really fun," said Joshua, who'd already been on a Young Eagles ride two years ago in Rockford.
Steven agreed. "It was my first time and I loved it," he said.
Barbara and Ray Wokle of Chicago said they are always looking for inexpensive entertainment for their granddaughters, Morgan and Paige Hurley, who were visiting from Missouri, and their cousin Lexi Yates of Crystal Lake. "It's just wonderful that they do this. It gives them an unforgettable experience," Barbara Wokle said.
But not everyone was eager to jump into a plane. Eight-year-old Courtney Pehm, who was visiting from Alabama, was content with watching planes take off and land while her father volunteered at the event. "They go too high. It's scary," she said.
More Young Eagles rides are scheduled for Aug. 18, Sept. 8 and Oct. 13 at the Lake in the Hills Airport, 8407 Pyott Road. Kids must be accompanied by a parent or guardian. For more information call Mary Anne Basak at (847) 960-7500 or (815) 479-7960.