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.
For many EAAers, an interest in general aviation is in their blood. Mario Rosales, however, developed a fascination on his own at a young age. “I had no one to guide me along. My parents weren’t knowledgeable at all but they supported me,” he said.
That, Mario said, is why Young Eagles is so important; the Young Eagles program gives young people a straightforward path to experience flight often for the first time.
“It’s the aviation version of pay it forward,” he said. “I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for the ones to help me out.”
Mario attended the EAA Air Academy in 1997 after a friend in his RC flying club told him about it.
Now an air traffic controller and private pilot, Mario flies Young Eagles himself and said he’s flown around 130 since he received his certificate.
“Aviation’s one of those things that … you can’t fully understand it unless you try it and with kids if you can experience it from a young age it opens your eyes,” he said he said of why he flies Young Eagles. “A lot of kids … you look at their expressions and you look at what they’re feeling. I know what that feels like. … You never forget that. I don’t know if any pilots out there ever forget what it’s like to experience it for the first time.”
Mario compared flying Young Eagles to being a teacher or mentor and told the story of one somewhat reluctant Young Eagle he flew with early in his flying career who was particularly memorable.
“She was terrified to go on the flight and then we somehow coached her to go on after a lot of coaxing,” he recalled. “She was flying the airplane. She broke out of her shell and it was one of the most magical things I’ve ever seen. Whether she got into aviation or not is kind of a moot point. … You have to understand it’s not just giving a kid an airplane ride, it’s helping them out with variables that you might not even understand.”
Although he said the Young Eagles program is an important factor in garnering youth interest in aviation he encourages pilots who fly with the program not to get hung up on making sure the Young Eagle they’re flying goes on to a career in aviation.
“Not every kid you take for an airplane ride is into aviation but what you’re giving them is an experience that is not readily available for most kids,” he said. “I’m not saying this is any better than any other [experience] but I am saying it is very unique … and it’s very rewarding being able to share that with the kids.”
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.