Dalton and Hailey Rey take to the Friendly City skies on the Fourth of July.
If you thought fireworks were the only thing worth watching in the skies over Creswell on Independence Day, then you probably weren’t at Hobby Field earlier in the day. There, anxious parents and excited kids looked skyward as more than seven single-engine planes and their pilots, along with 50 children, took part in the annual Experimental Aviation Association (EAA) Chapter 31 Young Eagles Flight Rally. Under nearly perfect sunny conditions, local kids aged eight to 17 got the chance to don headphones and shoulder harnesses and take a free 15- to 20-minute flight some 3,000 feet above Lane County. For the pilots like Gary Ludeke, 79, it’s a chance to give back to the community and spark an interest in aviation. “Who knows?” he said while standing next to his Cessna 172. “One of us might be the pilot who first takes a kid up in our plane who’ll later turn out to be the astronaut that first walks on Mars!” For brother and sister Dalton and Hailey Rey, the chance to join Ludeke in the sky was a lot closer than a walk on a distant planet. As the siblings climbed aboard, they assured their parents, Karissa and Dave Rey of Cottage Grove, with big smiles and thumbs up. “I’m pretty excited!” said Dalton, 8, as he looked out through the plexiglass in the front seat, while Hailey buckled up in the back seat. Soon, they were roaring down the runway and taking off northward into the sunshine. A little while later, the plane circled back and landed gently on the runway to return the kids back to their parents. “It was really cool!,” said Hailey, 10. “We could see mountains and rivers and everything – it was great!” Eugene Swartz brothers Emaan, 14, and Armon, 11, got to take their rides in separate planes. When they landed within about five minutes of each other, Emaan recounted his first thought when the plane left the ground: “Oh my! I’m actually flying!” For both brothers this was the first time either of them had been in a plane of any size. “I could see my school from the air!,” said Armon. “Being a pilot would be so cool.” However, Armon’s next thought was a lot more grounded: “Okay Mom, can we get something to eat now?” And with that, the Swartzes went in search of a meal befitting two would-be pilots on a perfect July Fourth afternoon.