Young Eagles pilots around the world help EAA spread The Spirit of Aviation to younger generations, and Dave Jennen, EAA 613225, is no exception, as he has flown exactly 1,000 Young Eagles flights over the last 17 years.
Dave didn’t know a lot about EAA when he began flying, but his local airport manager got him involved with Chapter 1174 meetings, and he started flying some Young Eagles around 2000. One thing led to another, and a few years later when the chapter needed a new Young Eagles coordinator, Dave was picked for the job.
He agreed to his new post, but with a condition: Dave wanted to fly more than the kids who were able to make it out to the airport. He knew that there were students in local schools who would benefit from the freedom that flight provides who, for one reason or another, wouldn’t be able to get to airport themselves.
“I spent 37 years working in law enforcement, and spent a lot of years around kids whose parents weren’t the type to bring them to the airport,” Dave said. “I said I’ll do it, but I want to go to the schools.”
He initially got the idea from a neighboring airport where a Young Eagles coordinator worked with the D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program at local schools. Fergus Falls didn’t have a D.A.R.E. program when Dave took over, so he went directly to the schools and asked if he and other aviators could come speak to some classes of kids.
“We’ll come into the classroom, then we’ll bring them out to the airport and give them a chance to go flying,” he said.
Since beginning that program, Dave and Chapter 1174 have expanded their reach to five or six schools, including one in neighboring North Dakota. Along the way to flying 1,000 Young Eagles, Dave said his favorite part has been the joy on his young copilots’ faces.
“The look on the kid’s face when you push off the ground, the wheels come off the ground and they realize they’re flying [is my favorite part],” Dave said. “And the overall enthusiasm when they’ve had a chance to control the airplane. I guess it’s the smiles on the kids’ faces when we get back on the ground.”
In addition to those magical moments, Dave said getting the chance to get kids who otherwise might not have a chance to do something like fly an airplane drives him to keep on going.
“I haven’t had anybody who wasn’t excited,” he said. “That’s part of the reason I continue to do it. The other reason is giving kids whose parents aren’t actively engaged a chance to get involved.”
People from his local community often recognize Dave because he either flew them or flew someone they know. His attitude of getting anybody who wants to fly in the air is a big part of that.
Dave said students with conditions like muscular dystrophy who have expressed interest in getting a Young Eagles ride have been able to as part of his group’s efforts. His mantra is simple, yet powerful.
“The answer is always absolutely,” Dave said. “We’ll take them flying … there’s always room for those kids.”