Sky’s no limit for these kids

Pilots give disabled children the gift of flight
By Sara Bruestle | Aug 01, 2012
Photo by: Sara Bruestle Ethan Floyd, 6, of Kirkland, gets ready to fly over Mukilteo with pilot Mark Thompson during the Challenge Air for Kids and Friends Fly Day at the Historic Flight Foundation at Paine Field.

Children recently rose to the challenge to look past their disabilities and do what they never thought they could do – fly a plane.

About 75 children with disabilities or life-threatening illnesses had the opportunity to ride in planes at the Challenge Air for Kids and Friends Fly Day at the Historic Flight Foundation in Mukilteo on July 21.

“Our mission is to help build self-confidence and self-esteem in kids with special needs,” said Executive Director April Culver. “We want to show them that just because they do have some challenges, that doesn’t mean they can’t do anything that they want.

“If they want to be a pilot, their challenges shouldn’t keep them from trying.”

Fifteen pilots donated their single-engine aircrafts, and 100 volunteers donated their time to give kids the experience of flight from Paine Field. Most of the children were from Snohomish County.

For 20 minutes, each kid soared 2,000 feet over the blue waters of Possession Sound, to the left of Hat Island, across Whidbey Island, to south of the ferry, and back to Snohomish County’s airport. All of them were given the chance to fly co-pilot, and some of them even piloted the plane.

“They fly in front as co-pilot, and we show them that they can fly a plane,” said volunteer pilot Jim McGauhey. “As long as they are mentally competent, physical disabilities can be compensated.”

Since 1993, Challenge Air has taken more than 30,000 kids with disabilities up into the air in 31 states. This was the third time the event was held at Paine Field.

Challenge Air was started in Dallas by a Vietnam fighter pilot, Rick Amber, who lost the use of his legs after an aborted landing attempt on an aircraft carrier.

Amber loved flying so much that he figured out how to continue to fly after his accident, and share the experience with children who spend much of their lives being told what they can’t do.

McGauhey has volunteered five times to fly his vintage 1958 Cessna 172 for Challenge Air. He takes off and lands the plane, but likes to hand over the controls to the kids the other 15 minutes of the ride.

“You put a smile on their face,” he said. “You’re able to show them that they can do something that they never thought they could do. It gets a little addicting.”

Ethan Floyd, of Kirkland, wasn’t nervous at all for his airplane ride. He smiled big and gave a thumbs-up before take off.

Inside the cockpit, on top of a booster seat, the 6 year old told pilot Mark Thompson that he wanted to fly to India to see the Taj Mahal.

“Are we flying to Canada?” he asked.

Up in the air, Ethan took it all in. He looked out the window and pointed to all of the miniature homes, roads, boats and cars below. He talked excitedly into the headset about what he saw.

Then it was his turn to fly. Thompson let Ethan take the controls. His mom, Crystal, said at one point he flew into a cloud. As he steered, the plane rocked side to side.

He gave the controls back to Thompson when his mom and brother, Austin, 4, started to feel dizzy in the backseat.

“It was cool,” Ethan said. “I like flying over the water.”

After his plane landed, Ethan was given pilot’s wings and a certificate.

The July 21 Fly Day was the second time Robert Sosaya, of Mukilteo, has signed up for Challenge Air. The first time, Sosaya, 18, said he had been too scared to take the controls. This time, he had the courage to give flying a try.

He said it was a lot of fun to be the one flying the plane over Mukilteo’s beach.

“It’s a cool thing that they do,” Sosaya said. “It helps people with disabilities know that you’re not the only one.”

In addition to airplane rides, the Fly Day at HFF featured ground school, face painting, clowns, a cakewalk, arts and crafts, an aircraft exhibit and fun with robots.

For more information or to register for the event, go to

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