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.
Joe Coraggio, EAA Lifetime 563242, got his first ride in a general aviation aircraft just one year after the Young Eagles program began, and although it wasn’t an official Young Eagles ride, he said it sparked something inside him.
“It was just a ride,” he said. “I didn’t really understand that aviation was accessible to me at that point. It was more or less a joy ride. And then the Young Eagles program is what told me it was accessible.”
After his Young Eagles ride in 1995, Joe started spending time at Capitol Drive Airport in Brookfield, Wisconsin, and said he soon became the resident airport kid.
“I became known as the ‘Ramp Rat,’” he said. “EAA Chapters 11 and 18 took me in as one of their own and saw to it that I learned about airplanes and flying, giving me the right seat on many $100 hamburger missions. Those two chapters have a long history of taking young people under their collective wings and mentoring them to successful pursuit of aviation both as a career and as a hobby.”
With encouragement from the chapters, Joe went on to take flying lessons from his Young Eagles pilot Eric Whyte, EAA Lifetime 357260, who was himself a Young Eagle, and today is a professional pilot. In addition to his career in aviation, Joe is also a longtime AirVenture volunteer, vice-chairman of the AirVenture Cup Race, and a homebuilder.
“The people that I got my Young Eagles ride from were heavily involved in experimental homebuilt airplanes and that gave me the spark to want to build my own … and that’s now flying,” he said of his modified Long-EZ nicknamed Betty. “It took me seven-and-a-half years to build and so anybody that I give a Young Eagles ride to in my airplane is getting a Young Eagles ride in an airplane built by a Young Eagle.”
As involved in aviation as he is now, Joe said he doesn’t come from a family of enthusiasts and credits the pilots and EAAers he’s met through Young Eagles with his successes.
“To the pilots and volunteers that are involved in the Young Eagles program … yes, what they do does work and does make a difference in people’s lives,” he said. “It gets people involved in aviation and … when they find somebody that they think might have a deeper level of interest than just going for an airplane ride for a day, that it really makes a difference when they follow up and help to make aviation accessible to that particular Young Eagle. That’s what Eric Whyte did for me and that’s really hugely important. It’s great to give Young Eagles rides but I think it’s even better to go the next step and that’s what our EAA chapters in southeastern Wisconsin have done for me and Eric Whyte. And that’s made a huge difference.”
If you or someone you know has a Young Eagles story to share, e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also share your Young Eagles photos or video with us on Twitter and Instagram using #YoungEagles25.