Settled comfortably in the pilot seat of his Beech Bonanza four-seater aircraft, Barry Jackson lets his 11-year-old co-pilot handle the controls with one hand while Jackson keeps a firm grip.
It’s been a short flight over the city and now, as the pair approach the runway at the Vernon Airport, Jackson has his young co-pilot follow him through on the movements as they ease the Beech back onto the ground.
As soon as the plane stops, the co-pilot bolts from his seat out onto Jackson’s wing and shouts to his waiting parents, “Mom, dad, I landed the airplane.”
And it’s because of such stories that Jackson and other Vernon Flying Club members donate their time and aircraft to introduce kids to flying through the Canadian Owners and Pilots Association’s COPA For Kids program.
“It’s an incredible program,” said Jackson, 75, a former Vernon Flying Club president and COPA captain for the Vernon club. “I do it for the fantastic satisfaction of seeing the joy in these kids as they try a new experience.”
Kids seven to 17 will have a chance to take a free introductory 20-minute flight around the North Okanagan during the Vernon Airport’s Wings and Wheels event on Father’s Day, Sunday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Parents can register their kids at the airport that day and after a little ground school which explains how an aircraft operates and how the controls work, it’s out to the waiting aircrafts on the runway.
“We’ve got seven-to-10 aircraft operating and we have a pattern worked out so it works for the number of aircraft,” said Jackson. “We usually take off and go out over Adventure Bay Point, up to the other end of the lake, out to Armstrong, back over the city and return to the airport.
“If a kid lives in a particular area close by, we’ll take them because, of course, they want to see their house.”
In 2010, the Vernon club flew more children during COPA For Kids – 373 – than any other club in Canada.
Jackson, who started flying 50 years ago in Powell River because “I always wanted to fly,” flew 73 kids during the COPA event, the most of any pilot in Canada.
“It’s just so much fun,” said the semi-retired real estate developer and builder.
The idea of COPA For Kids is to get people involved in aviation. Two kids that Jackson has flown in the 10 years he’s been involved have gone on to get their commercial pilot’s license.
Last year’s flying club bursary winner was a girl who was taken on a flight during COPA three years ago.
Should the weather not be favourable, or there’s an overflow of registration, the pilots will take the kids up at a later date.
While the COPA For Kids event runs until 1 p.m., Wings and Wheels at the airport will run until 4 p.m. Sunday.
In addition to the flights, there will be custom cars and tractors, drag races – including Vernon Mayor Wayne Lippert racing his dragster – and exhibitions from the RapAttack helicopter.
If not on a mission, a military rescue helicopter is scheduled to attend. There will also be BMX bike and skateboard demonstrations, food and entertainment. Proceeds are returned to the community through the efforts of local Rotary clubs.