Bill LaGrassa and Stan Lawrence: Making the sky accessible to young flyers
Running the Young Eagles program at Sacramento Executive Airport
“Sorry I’m sweaty, I’ve been working on an airplane,” Stan Lawrence said, as he sat down in the Sacramento Executive Airport to talk about the Young Eagles program. The nationwide program began in 1992, started by the U.S. Experimental Aircraft Association to introduce youth ages 8 to 18 to aviation, and has since taken more than 2 million youths up in the air. More than 100 of those introductions to flight were helmed by Bill LaGrassa, a local flight enthusiast and Young Eagle volunteer pilot. Along with other volunteers, the pair work year-round with program graduates, giving them experience with maintenance, upkeep and even aircraft assembly.
SN&R chatted with Lawrence and LaGrassa about the program, and about what it’s like to share aviation with Young Eagles.
What’s the goal of this all?
Lawrence: Well, the original goal was to fly a million kids by the year 2000—which we succeeded in doing. And since then, we’ve just been promoting young people into aviation.
LaGrassa: That’s the main idea of the program, is you get people interested in aviation, and that’s what Stan has done by pulling our group together, the Young Eagles as well as EAA. … We may take a kid up, 8 years old, it might be his first flight; we may take someone up who’s 15 or 16 years old.
How do most people get involved in Young Eagles?
Lawrence: Well, one of the things that we do is we try to work with disadvantaged kids. So one of our members used to be a soccer coach, and he recruits kids that are disadvantaged. So there are a couple of schools that he picks from. That’s why we teach them how to fly for free, actually, and we’re working on a [$10,000 EAA] scholarship.
What’s an average trip like?
LaGrassa: In most cases, we have a route that we fly out of Sacramento Executive, and we take them up for about a 20- or 30-minute flight.
Lawrence: It’s a 45-mile flight, but we fly in a big circle.
LaGrassa: I’ll take them out, show them my airplane, show them the engine, where it’s at, where the fuel is at—just the overall aircraft in itself. Then I load them in the airplane and try to introduce them to some of the instruments, et cetera, and then we tell them where we’re going to fly and then we take off … I usually take them up over the River Cats’ baseball field. And it depends on the interest level. The kids don’t have a lot of interest? You just take them around, do it that way; but if they do have an interest, they realize in the air how much they can see. They can see the city, they can see Golden 1.
What drove you to learn flying?
LaGrassa: As it turns out, my oldest son, he was in Germany and he learned to fly partially over there. When he came home, he took me up for a flight—and I said, geez, maybe I should learn just enough in case he can’t fly and I should fly. Make a long story short, I just kind of got hooked. In fact, I took lessons right here at Executive Flyers in 1998.
What was it about introducing people to flight that appealed to you?
LaGrassa: Well, I didn’t start flying until I was 60 years old. I took classes, and I’m so enthusiastic about it, I like anybody I can see that gets involved and excited about it. I share that excitement. You just get hooked on it, like anything else. It’s a great experience for me.