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.
Alex Kennerly, EAA 880010, took his first ride in a general aviation aircraft when he was a young teen, but aviation is most definitely in his blood.
“My father is a 17,000-hour ATP for [an airline] and he did 13 years in the military as a C-130 pilot so he’s got a fair bit of aviation time under his belt,” Alex said. “My mother is a CFI-I and a former flight attendant and my aunt has been flying Navajos out of Fairbanks for 27 years.”
Although he had a strong family connection to aviation, Alex said it was his Young Eagles ride that really fortified his desire to follow in his parents’ footsteps.
“When you’re a kid you always want to grow up to do what one of your parents wants to do. I remember being really young when we were living in Boston still and going to pick up my dad, this was pre-9/11 you could just go through security. I’m walking to the gate to pick up my dad from a flight to Paris and I was enamored by the giant jet that he just off of and I thought oh well, maybe I could do this,” he said. “It was not until Young Eagles, until I was actually in a plane … that I actually, it really came to the forefront of my mind that I thought hey, I can do this. This is pretty easy, pretty cool. This is fantastic. I definitely credit the Young Eagles flight with cementing in my mind that I wanted to be a pilot.”
Today, Alex is a student at the University of North Dakota studying commercial aviation and air traffic control. He earned his private pilot certificate in August 2016 and is currently working on his instrument rating and commercial certificate with the end goal of applying to regional airlines in August 2017 and eventually working for the same airline as his dad.
“[It’s] kind of crazy to think that it’s only two-three years away before I’ll stop talking on the radio as … an N-number and I’ll start talking as Envoy such and such or Endeavor such and such.”
Of course, none of Alex’s big dreams would become realized without the help of Young Eagles. Alex’s first ride was in a Breezy, which is perhaps as far as you can get from a commercial airliner.
“It was absolutely incredible,” he said. “The Breezy is such a unique experimental in that there is no side, there is no front, there is no top or anything. You’re completely open to the elements. … It’s like flying a motorcycle in the sky. … There’s no frame, it’s just you and the air and the seat that you’re buckled to.”
Alex said he makes an effort to stay proficient in general aviation aircraft outside of his training at UND and rents aircraft near the university and in his hometown near Chicago. He’s given Young Eagles rides in both locations and at a Chicago-area rally in April, flew 18 Young Eagles including one who had previously flown with his father.
“The last girl that I took up, she had the plane all to herself because it was at like noon so most everybody had already gotten their rides and gone home,” he said. “After her flight, I went to go write in her EAA logbook and I noticed that this was her second flight and the first flight that she had done had been the month prior with my dad. So one month she gets the father and then the next month she gets the son.”
Alex said flying Young Eagles himself became particularly important to him once he started college.
“I really wanted to become a Young Eagles pilot in order to be able to give other kids the same incredible opportunity that I was given to decide what I wanted to do with my career,” he said. “It’s extremely difficult to experience [flight] on such a personal level that the Young Eagles program does. You’re sitting next to the pilot, looking at the controls, touching the controls, seeing how the pilot flies the aircraft is such a rare opportunity unless your family has someone who owns an aircraft or you do Young Eagles. That’s really the only way that kids can experience being a pilot.
“It’s so incredible to be able to experience that and to inspire — do I count as the next generation still, I’m really not sure — this generation, the next generation, the next next generation, and so on to be able to show them aviation and the wonders that it holds.”
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.