Eagles Nest Open House Opens Sky to Kids

By Victoria Ford | Jul 03, 2019
Photo by: Victoria Ford

Eagleswood Township — Pilot Gene Bunt checked the oil in his 1946 Ercoupe 415C before taking 8-year-old Robert Lassonde up for a ride to become a certified Young Eagle during Saturday’s open house at Eagles Nest Airport in West Creek. A slightly nervous Lassonde leaned against the wing of the small aircraft, watching closely as Bunt showed him the engine and assured him this plane was designed with extra-special safety features.

Bunt is the Young Eagles program coordinator and chapter secretary of the Ocean County Chapter of the Experimental Aircraft Association.

After they returned to solid ground, Lassonde was all smiles. “He even let me steer!” he said.

Dozens of kids had registered for their chance to fly among the puffy white clouds in the bright blue sky. Planes and their pilots were all over the place, as excited would-be aviators ogled the aircraft and asked questions galore. The pilots had donated their time and fuel costs (at $5.20 a gallon) to volunteer for the day in the interest of sharing their passion and hopefully spark kids’ interest in pursuing aviation as either a hobby or a profession.

Car enthusiasts were part of the fun as well, with gleaming, mint-condition classics lining the grass in the parking area. The hangars were all open so visitors could stroll past and see the tenants, and Skydive East Coast was offering jumps. Face painting, ice cream and DJ music added to the carnival-like atmosphere.

Chris Linton of Barnegat was there with his three daughters, Olivia, 12, Ava, 11, and Melina, 8, all of whom were hopping with anticipation for their turn to fly. Linton said he had studied aviation science in school and had started on the path to getting his pilot’s license before the girls were born; he accumulated about 20 hours of flight time before he put it on hold to focus on family.

In all the time he’s lived in the area, he said, he was never aware of Eagles Nest Airport before attending the open house. The event was reigniting his “infinite love” of aviation and whetting his appetite to get back to his goal, for which he said he would need to log another 20 or more flight hours.

Sal Mazza of Little Egg Harbor, a member of the airport’s board of directors, said the airport’s new ownership structure is working well. Effective in March, the nonprofit Eagles Nest Pilots Association and its elected board of directors are responsible for operations. Board President and previous owner Peter Weidhorn remains a significant contributor alongside 20 pilots who now control 60 percent of the ownership structure.

“We’re pretty optimistic,” Mazza said. “It’s really the only way small, privately owned airports can survive,” given the intense pressure they’re under, in addition to property taxes and zoning issues.

On the upside, the safety culture around small aircraft has improved, he added, and is “now at the safest point in decades.”

Mazza said when he talks to kids about flying, he always emphasizes working hard and making good decisions to achieve their dreams.

Another director, Tom Conheeney, who lives in Connecticut and has a second home in North Beach, loves opportunities to impress upon children the very real possibility of flight with the right introduction and access to resources. Flying is a language kids can learn easily and never forget; it also fits perfectly into STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) curriculum requirements.  —V.F.

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