LOS LUNAS — Is it a bird or a plane?
Chapter 530 of the Experimental Aircraft Association, hosted at the Mid Valley Airpark in Los Lunas, is celebrating 30 years of continuously taking local children to the skies through its Young Eagles fly-in program.
Three times a year, the chapter hosts a fly-in, offering free flights to local children ages 8 to 17 to expose them to flying and show them options for pursuing an aviation career in the future.
“As a retired teacher, I like working with kids, and I thought it was important that they know what’s out there, all the different aviation jobs and just get a feeling for being up in the air,” said Rose Longmire, the Young Eagles coordinator and chapter treasurer. “And maybe, hopefully, they will get interested enough they will follow up and enter one of those aviation jobs.”
Longmire has called the airpark home for the past 46 years, and has coordinated the fly-ins for the past 10. She has had a long-time interest in aviation since her husband used to be a flight instructor, and together they own several planes themselves.
“(My favorite part is) just seeing some of them overcome their fears because even a lot of adults are hesitant of flying in a small airplane,” she said. “Most of the time, they do really well, but we have had several that changed their mind, and that’s OK. We want them to have a positive experience so next time they will come back.”
Isabella Baldonado, 14, who had her fourth Young Eagles flight on July 16, said she and her family found out about the program through Facebook about a year ago and have been to every program since.
“My favorite part is all the time they let the kid in the front, they let them drive the plane,” Baldonado said.
While she did not get to fly the plane around, she had done it in the past and said it was a great experience and recommends it to anyone interested.
Anybody who wants to sign up their kids to fly just needs to show up the day of the event to fill out the paperwork. Longmire said there is no online registration offered to ensure accessibility to those in the county without internet access.
“We look at it as more of a community activity,” Longmire said. “People come, they have been here before, they sit, they visit, they have breakfast, they have lunch.”
After every flight, each participant gets a logbook, where they can mark down who they flew with, the duration of the flight and other information about their short time in the sky.
“We have had some children who had flights 12 times,” Longmire said. “We do it three times a year. They just bring their log book back and hopefully they fly in a different plane or a different pilot so they get a different experience.”
On the back of each logbook is a QR code, so participants can learn more about flying and general aviation, with Longmire describing the website as a “kind-of ground school.”
Longmire said the program will be recognized by EAA later this year.
Makayla Grijalva was born and raised in Las Cruces. She is a 2020 graduate of The University of New Mexico, where she studied multimedia journalism, political science and history. She covers the village of Los Lunas, Los Lunas Schools, SODA and the town of Peralta.