Eyes on the future, heads in the clouds at Pearson Open Cockpit Day

Pilots take kids into the air, hoping to launch them on dreams of flight

By Stevie Mathieu, Columbian assistant metro editor

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Before Jule Sugnet, 10, of Portland, boarded Tom Sampson's RV-7 home-built airplane at Pearson Field on Saturday morning, Sampson gave the girl a brief lesson in aviation.

"I then move this -- this is the rudder," Sampson said, walking to the back of the aircraft. "And then there's the third control. This is called the elevator."

Jule followed him cautiously around the plane. The contraption would be traveling at speeds of up to 175 miles per hour, and it would make turns that tilt.

"Have you ever tried to turn a bike without leaning?" Sampson asked the girl, who indicated she had not. "It doesn't work very well, does it?" he said.

Next, Jule was strapped into the cockpit with a pair of headphones covering her ears. Sampson, a volunteer with Chapter 105 of the Experimental Aviation Association, was about to take her on a short flight over Vancouver as part of the Pearson Air Museum's Open Cockpit Day.

Jule waved to her family as they waited on the ground. Her 12-year-old brother, Jem Sugnet, had just taken the same plane ride.

"It was great," Jem said excitedly. "It was really fun. Everything seemed so small" from the plane, he said. Jem was at a similar event in August; this time, he came back with his sister. They were first in line for the plane rides.

"We went around Lake Vancouver," Jem said, adding that he wants to be a pilot. "I liked turning (the plane). He let me turn it."

After Jule touched down, she said she felt a little nervous before the plane ride, "but then I realized it was really smooth. It was kind of like a race car."

The aviation association's Young Eagles program aims to get children enthusiastic about a career in aviation. Such careers require a knowledge of math and science, and balance fun with responsibility, volunteers at Pearson Field said on Saturday.

The rides were free for children ages 8 to 17. The volunteer pilots had the capacity to give plane rides to only 60 children, and they had 60 kids signed up before noon. Children arriving after that were given a rain check and could schedule a future flight with one of the pilots.

Also at the air museum, people of all ages could step inside the cockpits of three antique planes: a North American T-28 Trojan, a 1941 Ercoupe, and the yellow 1953 Cessna 170B that was flown around the world in 1956 and 1957 by Jan Wood.

The Museum will be presented in September with an award distinguishing it as an American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics historic site, Pearson Air Museum Manager Laureano Mier said. Pearson Field was the first airport in the Pacific Northwest, and well-known pilots flying out of it include American aviator Charles Lindbergh.

Children participating in the free flight on Saturday were given a free Young Eagles hat, a certificate and a log book similar to those used by pilots to track the numbers of hours they've flown.

After Xander Hawkins, 8, of Vancouver, landed, he ran back to his family exclaiming that his body felt heavy on the ground when compared to how it felt in the air. It was his first time on an airplane.

"I really loved it," Xander said. "I felt like I weighed nothing. I saw lots of farms. There was a neat design of islands in Lake Vancouver. Even though the plane was going by really fast, the ground seemed to move pretty slow."

On his plane ride, Xander sat in the back seat and could hear everything the pilot said through headphones. There were two other children in the cockpit with them.

Xander came to Pearson Field with his parents, Steve and Tressy Hawkins, and his little sister, 7-year-old Lucy Hawkins, who was one year too young to participate.

The family plans to return to the event next year so Lucy can have a turn.

Stevie Mathieu: 360-735-4523; http://facebook.com/reportermathieu; http://twitter.com/col_politics; stevie.mathieu@columbian.com.