From Young Eagle to the Pylons at Reno

From Young Eagle to the Pylons at Reno

In celebration of the 25th anniversary of the EAA Young Eagles program in 2017, we’re featuring 25 Young Eagles whose stories inspire and exemplify the impact of the program.

Tom McNerney’s introduction to aviation was much more humble than one might expect looking at his race plane Unleashed.

“I was probably 13 maybe and I took a ride in a Cessna Cardinal and really enjoyed it,” he said of his Young Eagles ride. “I was always an engine guy, you know, I like engines and how they work and the pilot who flew me … throughout the flight was kind of describing what he was doing and I didn’t hardly look out the window at all. I was more concerned about how he was managing the systems.

“At one point I remember him asking me, I think he was leaning it out at cruise altitude, and he goes ‘Well, do you know what this does?’ and I said ‘No I don’t I know. The flight simulator lets me do it but I have no idea what it does.’ So he kind of explained it to me and I probably didn’t understand it at the time but … I liked the mechanics of it not so much the awe of being above the ground. Which I guess is probably still true today.”

After that flight, Tom, EAA 481279, started flight lessons and when he was a senior in high school, and halfway to getting his private certificate, he decided to buy an airplane. That airplane was Cessna 150C, which Tom described as “the ugliest airplane in a hundred miles.” Tom owned the C150 for several years and put a lot of effort into fixing it up before selling it and trading up—way up—to a Lancair, which its previous owner had used as a Reno air racer.

Tom said from the beginning he tried to give back to the Young Eagles program and gave rides with his 150 and later a few with the Lancair until he decided the plane might be a bit too much for those introductory rides.

While he’s no longer giving rides, Tom said he’s very active with his local EAA Chapter 91.

“The chapter is a positive for the airport. They have more of a percentage footprint on the airport than the city that owns the airport does,” he said. “It’s a good thing but I just don’t know how to keep it going.”

Tom said his concern is that, as the current pilot population ages, there won’t be enough new people to keep communities like Chapter 91 going.

“I’m the youngest one around by a long shot and I’m 34 … so I’m kinda going where are people my age flying? And I don’t see any,” he said. “Giving rides is great and I wish I had an airplane that I would trust to do that.”

If you or someone you know has a Young Eagles story to share, e-mail us at You can also share your Young Eagles photos or video with us on Twitter and Instagram using #YoungEagles25.

Read all 25 for 25 stories here >>

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Katie, EAA 1186406, is an avid aviation lover and learner and assistant editor in EAA publications.