Take off time for youngsters at Watsonville Municipal Airport

The flight of a lifetime: Take off time for youngsters at Watsonville Municipal Airport

WATSONVILLE– The tarmac of the Watsonville Municipal Airport on Saturday was filled with the excited chatter of kids ready for take off.

For many, it would be their first time in an airplane.

The Watsonville chapter of the Experimental Aircraft Association offers free plane rides to kids 8-17 on the first Saturday of each month from May to November.

Over the years, several thousand children have flown over the Monterey Bay through the Young Eagles program.

The national program is designed to introduce youngsters to the joy of flying and possibly lead some to a career in aviation, either as a pilot or mechanic.

Each youngster is given a 20-minute ride in a single-engine plane.

wvi_kidsPilot Lou Pavesi and passenger Antonio Hernandez do a pre-flight check of… (BILL LOVEJOY/SENTINEL)More than 33 youths participated in the flights on Saturday, organizers said.

“We’re showing them what you can do if you work hard and stay focused,” said pilot Richard Yee, a Santa Cruz resident who has been flying as a hobby for 25 years. “They learn about how the plane works, how the plane turns. I enjoy seeing the kids get excited about flying. I like to spread that around.”

Antonio Hernandez, a student at Ceiba Middle School in Watsonville, said he was thrilled to ride in the small plane’s cockpit despite flying through a little turbulence.

“It was fun to see all the houses, lakes and land,” Antonio, 13, said. “I want to try it again.”

Keili Onstott, 10, was all smiles as she greeted her dad after returning from the sky.

“It was awesome,” Keili said. “(The pilot) did sharp turns and we had a great view of the clouds.”