County aircraft group sponsoring air show at Family Festival

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DAVID BAKER
With the engine roaring, momentum pushes you against your seat as the small plane cruises down the runway at full throttle.

Before you know it, you could be enjoying a scenic view of Marion County along with the thrill of flying. Anyone can experience this thrill May 26 at the Hillsboro Family Festival.

The Marion County Aviation Experimental Aircraft Association is sponsoring a festival fly-in at the Hillsboro Airport. The Family Festival, formerly known as the Folk Festival, draws folks from all over to enjoy the view from the air and, this year, to enjoy an air show as well.

Members of the MCEAA are enjoying the view and have been for years. The adventure of flying aircraft and passing the thrill on to others is the basic mission of the organization.

Each year at the Folk Festival, MCEAA chapter members offer their personal planes to give rides to youth and adults.

“We send up as many as 50 to 70 people,” said Mike Knak, a member from Hillsboro. Knak’s plane is a Piper Cherokee.

According to Knak, the organization started around eight years ago when several flying enthusiasts in the area gathered to enjoy the airspace together. They are now a non-profit organization with some honorable goals.

Marion County Chapter 1301 is involved with a program called “Young Eagles.” This program gives free rides to youth ages 8 through 17. Each “Young Eagle” receives a 15-minute flight, with a personalized certificate.

The goal of this nationwide program is to send one million kids into flight by December 2003.

“So far there have been over 700,000 kids sent up,” Knak said.

Each Young Eagle can also become famous via the Internet because every youth who participated in the program is recognized on the Experimental Aircraft Association’s site, www.eaa.org.

Not only do the members of the MCEAA like to inspire young aviators, they enjoy sponsoring community activities.

For the past four Folk Festivals, MCEAA has sponsored a fly-in. This year is no exception. The newly-named Family Festival will give youth a chance to take their Young Eagle rides.

Adults above age 17 also are welcomed to participate, but they will be required to make a donation to the local chapter. The money will be used to send youth to aviation camp.

Jordan Witman, Herington, will attend the camp this year.

The annual fly-in will begin with a pancake breakfast in the hanger at 6:30 a.m. The Young Eagles’ rides begin at 7 a.m. and last until noon.

The afternoon will consist of two 45-minute air shows by the Oklahoma Barnstormers.

The Barnstormers are a group from Enid Okla., who fly radio-controlled planes. The first show will be at 1 p.m. and the second show at 3 p.m.

One plane to watch for is a twin engine C47, which houses a 5-to-6 foot wingspan, said Knak. Other attractions include the flying lawn mower, a flying Porsche, a witch’s broomstick, the world’s smallest skydiver and even some radio-controlled dogfights.

“This takes a great deal of skill,” Knak said. “The Oklahoma Barnstormers build their own radio-controlled planes and in many cases the dogfights end up in mid-air collisions.”

The air show and fly-in are highlights for MCEAA members.

“For awhile, all we did was have breakfast and go flying,” said Edith Darting of Hillsboro, MCEAA chairperson. “Now we try to get more involved and give rides. We also enjoy bringing in the air show.”

Darting and her husband, John, will be giving rides in their Piper Cherokee 180. The Dartings said they enjoy owning this plane because it seats four people comfortably.

Although the name Experimental Aircraft Association suggests that members build their own planes, that is not always the case. The association was started by enthusiasts who built their own airplanes. The Marion County chapter has some home-built airplanes, too.

“Terry Chizek from Marion, is building a KR1 and two more planes with Volkswagen engines in them,” Knak said. “Another guy who is working on something at home is Jeff Harshman from Cedar Point. He is building a Thunder Mustang plane.”

Knak said some of these building projects can take six to eight years to complete.

The local chapter is open to having new members. Anyone is welcome to join the MCEAA. Knak said they have members from all over the state.

“The group is not exclusively a Marion County group,” he said. “We’ll take whoever wants to join us.”

Annual membership dues are $20 for the local chapter and about $50 goes to the national EAA organization.

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