Young Eagles gets pilots, kids to Fly Free together

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(Left) Abby Deardeuff, 12; Josie Deardeuff, 8; and John Dutcher posed in front of Dutcher’s high-wing prop plane before they took flight over the Mississippi River. (Right) Ground crews, pilots and other personnel donated their time for kids to access a high-flying experience. (Steve Van Kooten/Courier Press)

By Steve Van Kooten


At 1,400 feet Prairie du Chien looked different. The tops of the trees had turned gold and brown and the rivers reflected white speckles of sunlight in their rippling waters. Below the surface of the lakes and inlets in the Mississippi River, green plants and tan sand bars were impossible to see from the ground, but in the sky, every bit of Prairie was on display all at once.

“I like looking at the lakes,” Josie Deardeuff, 8, said. “From above, they look shiny.” Josie and her sister, Abby, were passengers on John Dutcher’s single engine high-wing prop plane, which cruised at 150 miles along to the river. Dutcher’s high-wing is notable for its increased stability in flight compared to a low-wing. They flew approximately 15 miles down the Mississippi, then back-tracked ten miles North of the Prairie du Chien Municipal Airport before the plane returned for a landing.

Dutcher, an experienced pilot with 40 years, 2,800 takeoffs and landings under his belt, stated he planned to make several more flights during the day. “I love it up there,” he said as he taxied his plane to a designated spot at the airport.

On Oct. 22, the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) sponsored a Young Eagles event at the PdC airport. The event, originally planned for Oct. 21, had to be rescheduled for winds, which had reached 30 miles per hour that day, according to Dutcher. 

The Fly Free events are held periodically and sponsored by EAA chapters. Prairie’s event was held thanks to chapters from Waterloo, IA; Dubuque, IA; and Viroqua, WI. Ten pilots, ground crew and other staff donated their time, equipment and fuel to give kids an opportunity to touch the sky.

“The reason we do this is to foster interest in aviation in young kids,” Harold Velez, an EAA member and “pilot in training,” said. “It is our hope that once you are in the air and have the ability to control the airplane on your own, you will be prompted to follow aviation in one way or the other.”

Velez said careers in the aviation field needed  people; everything from pilots, mechanics, air-traffic controllers and the Air Force had spots to fill. Pilots, especially Air Transport Pilots (ATP), are in high demand due to the amount of training and dedication it takes to get the credentials. “There are opportunities everywhere.”

The EAA’s mission to support aviation in all its forms, including pilots, aircrafts and airports, has led to many Fly Free events in the Midwest. The events are free and registration is done through the local chapter’s website. Velez reaffirmed the point of these events wasn’t to make money but to inspire young people.

“The first step is feeling what it is like to fly in the plane.”

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