First flights, for young and old
The Canadian Owners and Pilots Association offers a fun opportunity for young children who may never get the chance to participate in general aviation, to “pilot” an aircraft. It is called COPA for Kids. It happens across Canada completely free for participants and is volunteer run by local COPA flights, similar to EAA’s Young Eagles. I have participated in two events so far in my flying hobby and will continue to in the future; but sometimes the joy of flight is not just for kids, it is for anyone (more on that later).
Living in Nova Scotia, the Summerside PEI COPA Flight 125 is the nearest COPA flight to me that offers this event. I volunteered my time in 2018 and again in 2021, and it is always a very rewarding day for me. To see the joy a short flight in an aircraft brings to a young person is uplifting to say the least. The COPA members who organize this event have it down to a science that runs like a well-tuned Continental engine. Safety is paramount and the kids and their families are allowed as close as safely possible to the operations on the ramp. They plan all year for it and it definitely shows.
The event is organized so that each child gets to fly right seat and, if comfortable, to take the controls to be a pilot. The children in groups are given a full airport safety briefing in a large auditorium in the airport to start, then get to view the aircraft from a safe distance. They are then assigned a ground person who escorts them to the aircraft and helps to strap them in and the fun begins. After I brief my passenger on my safety features and put a headset on them, we taxi out for run-up.
Most of them have never been in a plane before, let alone behind the controls of one. Off we would go for a brief 10-15 minute circuit over the local area around Prince Edward Island, with them having the opportunity to fly. The joy and excitement is infectious and the reaction of each child seeing their school or home from the air was worth the flight to PEI and back. We then land and the ground crew would be ready for them with a flight certificate and a photo with the plane and the pilot for each child. I personally got to take 10 kids this year. Each one could not be more happy with what just happened. The experience, if it even inspires one to become a pilot, is worth it for me and all the volunteers who participate.
The opportunity to be an ambassador for general aviation and to hopefully inspire the next generation of pilots is something I feel that we all as pilots should be participating in. The pool of pilots and small aircraft seems to be shrinking, and I feel that we all should try to demonstrate this freedom to anyone interested in what we’re passionate about, especially if we want to have the freedom of flight in the future.
This is what brings me to my most rewarding flight in a very long time. My friend’s father was in the Indian Navy, serving on an aircraft carrier in the 1960s. He confessed to his son a while ago that it was his dream to become a pilot. He now lives in Toronto, so the last time he was visiting the family in Nova Scotia, my friend and I planned to take him up in my 182.
During the drive to the airport he told us how at night he used to go into the hangars and sit in the cockpits dreaming of flying—something that was news to my friend. He told us how hard it was to become a naval aviator without family or other connections required to succeed in India. The family emigrated to Canada in the 1970s, hoping for a better life and opportunities for their children. He spent the next few decades building a life in a new country, putting his flying dreams on hold.
He is a very reserved man but his excitement was evident as we pulled the plane out and did the preflight. My friend warned me beforehand that his dad is not very demonstrative and does not smile much. I didn’t believe him, as he was grinning like one of my COPA for Kids passengers.
We were blessed with a gorgeous CAVU day and we planned a local flight over Nova Scotia. The skies were clear and the air was smooth as glass for the whole flight. Visibility was well over 40 miles and from 4500 feet we could see both coasts of the province and almost the length of it.
This drove home to me the joy and experience of owing and piloting my own craft and the realization that it is an experience best shared with family, friends, and kids of all ages. Seeing someone experience the joy and freedom of flying is something that I hope to continue to do in the future. I encourage anybody who flies to do the same.