You won’t have to be a professional pilot to fly an airplane at the Frederick Municipal Airport on Saturday.
As part of a free promotional event this weekend, any Frederick County resident 8 and older will have a chance to take the pilot’s seat, grab the control column, and learn how to take a real airplane into the skies.
Learn to Fly Day — which will take place from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Frederick Municipal Airport — seeks to promote interest in aviation among the general public.
The event is free and will allow visitors to experience the thrill of piloting a plane by taking a free flight over the county.
Visitors also will meet with pilots, learn about careers in aviation, get a certificate for a discounted flight lesson, and look inside various aircraft, including airplanes, helicopters and gliders.
“We just want people to come out to the airport and have a good time,” said Brittney Miculka, a pilot and youth outreach coordinator with the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, which organizes the event in partnership with the Experimental Aircraft Association.
The International Learn to Fly Day is an worldwide effort in helping people of all ages take the first step to discover the fun, freedom and accomplishment of flight. One of the main goals of the event is to get more members of the general public, especially youngsters, to think about entering the field of aviation, Miculka said.
“We want youth to be inspired about flying,” Miculka said. “Our goal is to build up the pilot population.”
With the range of careers available for them, young people are much less likely to think about becoming pilots today than they were in the 1970s, Miculka said. With the pilot population continuing to dwindle, it is important to get more people — of all ages — to rediscover flight, she said.
International Learn to Fly Day is a major part of those efforts.
While aviators nationwide staged their local events on May 19, the date for Frederick County was changed because of the G-8 Summit at Camp David near Thurmont.
The rain date for the event is Sunday.
According to Miculka, this will be third year in which the event is staged at the Frederick Municipal Airport.
Last year, about 500 people participated in the event — 150 of whom were able to take off on a free 30-minute flight, Miculka said.
Organizers are hoping for the same turnout this year and are inviting anyone to come in — if not to fly, then at least to learn about the Frederick Municipal Airport.
Introductory flights will be available to visitors on a first-come, first-served basis. Children 8 and older are welcome to participate, but will require parent consent.
Mark Evans, a corporate pilot and a flight instructor, who participated in the event last year, said he loved seeing the faces of children light up as he took them up in his plane.
“The majority of our ridership was young kids,” said Evans, who hopes that his flight may have inspired some youngsters to become a part of the next generation of pilots.
Evans earned his pilot’s license in 1977 at 17, and he has been hooked on flying ever since.
“I learned to fly an airplane before I learned to drive a car,” he said. “And I can’t think of another career that is more enjoyable.”