Young Eagles Spotlight: Pepper’s Journey to Flight 1.2

by Autumn Pepper Rhodes

After joining EAA Chapter 66, I spent the next year volunteering at the monthly Young Eagle Rallies and attended Build Night when I could. The concepts behind the forces of flight came naturally to me and I loved learning and flying. As summer approached, I was given the opportunity to apply for the chapter scholarship to Destination Aviation, a weeklong aviation camp at Sun-n-Fun in Lakeland, Florida. This week at camp allowed my passion for aviation to really blossom!

My week of Destination Aviation had daytime students and overnight students, aged 11-13. There were four girls, and 12 boys. Since I lived a few hours away, I was an overnight camper. There were around six over- night campers, and I was the only girl, so I had my bunkroom to myself. I think we had an advantage as overnight students because of the friendships we formed. We would get up in the morning, eat breakfast together, discuss our class materials, have class, lunch, more activities and then hangout and do something fun in town before or after dinner and then hang-out until bedtime.   I made some great friends during that   week who I still talk to.  In our classes, we learned everything from weather observation and knowledge, to aerodynamics and parts of an airplane. It was basic information, nothing too in-depth for our age. Even so, I know that those lessons helped me progress in my flight journey at a faster pace.

Our classes covered everything from weather observation, to parts of the aircraft and aerodynamics. We made gliders and learned about flight planning. One of the first activities we participated in was a Discovery flight. At home, our EAA flights often fly along the river or the coastline so it was interesting to be flying over land the  whole time. We also had time every-day to practice on the flight simulators. The sims had a curriculum we followed teaching basic flight instruction. An advantage to being overnight students included being able to  practice after hours. We also enjoyed being able to choose different airplanes to fly. The simulator lessons were important because they impacted what we would be allowed to do on our flight day. The best part of     Destination Aviation was flight day!  We drove over to Vero Beach and in groups of 3 would fly with a CFI with  each student taking a 30-minute leg of the trip. Part of our studies were preparing for these flights and practicing on the simulators. My flight instructor told me I was a natural! Flying really is the greatest thrill!

For graduation, each student picked a topic we found most interesting and made a presentation. We could work in groups if we felt more comfortable. Being the overachiever I am, I chose the hardest topic – creating a manual flight plan. I found it remarkably interesting and challenging, but that is why I loved it. I showed everyone, including    my parents, how to plot a flight plan, calculate fuel and maximum  gross weight. This experience influenced my love for the mathematical and logistical aspect of aviation.

When I came home, I made a presentation to Chapter 66 on what I learned and accomplished at camp. I had so much fun at Destination Aviation, I went back the following year and saw some of my friends. We were five girls to ten boys and I picked flight planning again as my presentation topic.   It was another great week of aviation learning  and being with my peers who share a passion for flight.

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Young Eagle Volunteer Team Meeting

Interested in a career in aviation, aviation enthusiast, earning a free flight, need volunteer hours, looking to earn your private pilot’s license?

We are building our YE Youth Volunteer Team for the upcoming 2021 year.

Information Meeting:

WHEN: Sunday, December 6th, 2021
TIME: 8:30 AM
WHERE: EAA Chapter 66 Building, Enter through Landing View Road off Metro/Stop at the Gate to be let in.

Register here:

We will be having our all you can eat pancake breakfast which is $6 cash.

Our chapter has been working on an education initiative that would provide more resources and activities for youth serious about a career in aviation. We have also been working on modifying our Young Eagle rallies activities to provide a more in depth introduction. Thursday build nights have resumed which all teens are welcome to attend. As we look at the new year, we are hoping to host a Young Eagle Workshop in late January or Early February and a specific teen build project in the Spring that I hope you will consider being a part of.

Our chapter policy in the wake of the Covid changes is the following: if you don’t feel great, or are sick, please stay home. If you are more comfortable in a mask, please wear one but they are not required. Most of our pilots will not be in a mask. I understand this may be a determining factor and it is completely understandable. Some flight schools require masks, others do temperature checks and wipe downs. Please make a decision that is best for you and your family.


Young Eagles Activities

The Young Eagle program is designed to introduce youth, age 11-17 to general aviation. The Young Eagles first flight program is free of charge thanks to the generosity of our pilots and ground crew. The number of flights flown are dependent on weather, flight conditions (on the ground) and available pilots. Flights may be halted or cancelled without prior notice.

The minimum age to fly is 11 years old. A parent or legal guardian must be present to sign the waiver and be on site during the flight. Children younger than 11 may participate in the instruction class and walk-around of the aircraft but they cannot fly. If you have any questions, please email

WHEN: First Sunday of Every Month
WHERE: EAA Chapter 66 House @ Page Field.
Enter via Metro Parkway/Landing View Road. There will be a speaker at the gate to be buzzed/escorted in.
TIME: 8:00 am – 10:30 a m weather permitting

Register here:

A pancake breakfast is also available for $6 per person – Cash only.

Young Eagles Spotlight: Pepper’s Journey to Flight 1.1

by Autumn Pepper Rhodes

When I was younger, I was a girly-girl. I liked playing with My Little Pony and dressing up like the Disney Princesses. Around the age of 8, these interests slowly faded. The gifted program introduced more interesting topics like engineering and science, and it was great exploring these new avenues.  Around this time, I developed an interest   in owls. I thought they were so majestic, and I envied their ability to fly. That concept of flight was so interesting to me. I started collecting owl pictures, figurines, bags, and shirts – all with different types of owls. It was quite the obsession. I wanted to be able to fly just like the creatures I adored so much. The only way to soar like an owl was  to learn to fly and decided I wanted to become a pilot. The fact I had never been in any type of plane was not a deterrent. I was determined to one day be a pilot.

My mom had always wanted to go to Space Camp when she was younger, but her parents said no. She happened  to be on their website one day and noticed a program called Aviation Challenge. Aviation Challenge is a branch of Space Camp in which you get to study flight and experience an exciting week full of aviation and militaristic-style activities. All safe and kid appropriate, of course. Learning about flight and simulators and taking my first trip to Alabama sounded awesome. It was an expensive week though, plus the travel and out of our price range. On the Aviation Challenge website, we saw a link for scholarship opportunities. I applied for the leadership scholarship   and had to create a patch, write an essay and complete a science experiment. It was fun and challenging. A few months later, to my happy surprise, I was selected to receive a leadership scholarship to the Aviation Challenge.

That summer I was off to Huntsville, Alabama, for one of the most memorable weeks of my life.

There were only two girls our team.  I was the only one on my team who knew how to make an emergency shelter  in the wild, fold hospital corners for our rack in the barracks, and won the “build a glider” competition. My call sign was Salsa and after you spend a little time with me, you would probably figure out why. My counselors were so inclusive and made sure that everyone felt comfortable. At the end of the week, Team Lightning won the Admiral’s Cup for Mach I.  To make the week even more memorable, I also won the coveted Right Stuff award for Mach I.  I  left Huntsville wanting to fly a real fighter jet.

Learning to fly became my new focus. Yes, I was only ten years old. My friends thought I was crazy. Three months after returning from Aviation Challenge, we found a local EAA chapter. My mom contacted their Young Eagle Coordinator to arrange a visit and flight. In October of 2015, I headed to Page Field for my first Young Eagles flight. I was given a short class on the basics of aviation, which I found fascinating, and then did a walk around of a small aircraft. When my mom realized that Experimental (the E in EAA) meant self-built, I was worried she would not let me go up. But she did. Mr. Rich was my pilot and my very first flight was in his RV-8. From the moment I hopped into the cockpit until the moment we touched back down, I knew I had found my passion. It was the most exhilarating feeling, better than Space Mountain at Disney!! We flew over my neighborhood, along the river, and went cloud dancing. I was even able to handle the controls. I was so happy. The EAA pilots were all so nice and all they saw that day was an excited little girl. They didn’t know how long I would be sticking around.

A few weeks later, we took a Girl Scout camping trip to Lakeland to participate in Aviation Discovery Weekend on the Sun-n-Fun campus. They were doing flights there as well and I had my second flight in three weeks!! I was hooked! This was my future.

I used my early birthday money and the next month, I came back and paid the local chapter dues and became a member of EAA Chapter 66. From that point forward, I was like a little puppy. I would follow our pilots around when they were done flying the new Young  Eagles  hoping for a flight. I would do any chore they asked if it meant a flight.   I loved flying with Lt. Tom and probably bugged him the most during  my first year. He was a former Top Gun instructor. He would do Navy take-offs and take me cloud dancing. I loved being able to handle the controls. I was interested in the Air Force Academy and Lt. Tom would always tell me to apply to the Naval Academy instead. I started playing simulator games at home and started reading about aviation. Within a few months, I was helping with Young Eagle tasks at our monthly pancake breakfasts and attending build night. I was only 11 years old, but I was making a plan for my future.

Getting ready for a flight with Lt. Tom

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Education Outreach Survey

For our Young Eagles, potential new Young Eagles and parents, we are looking for some feedback. We would like to know what topics our Young Eagles serious about aviation are interested in exploring.Please take a few moments with your Young Eagles and fill out this education outreach survey. Thanks so much! We hope to see you for a flight in the near future!

Young Eagle earns AOPA Scholarship

Congratulations to our YE Volunteer Pepper, a recipient of the 2020 AOPA You Can Fly $10,000 Scholarship generously funded by the James C. Ray Foundation. Pepper was one of 80 high school students ages 15-18 out of hundreds to receive the award this year. Requirements for acceptance including soloing or obtaining a private pilot’s license within one year. Young Eagles, your local EAA chapter is a fantastic starting point in pursuing your aviation dreams. Learning, networking and mentoring pay off in the long run!

March YE Rally

It was a beautiful and chilly morning in Southwest Florida. We have been so excited to have our Young Eagles rallies back up and running on monthly basis. This month we flew six new Young Eagles: Zade, Samuel, Gracie, Brian, Maddie and Marissa. Congratulations on your first flight!!!

We are thankful for our Young Eagle Team; Pep, Nicole and Collin are invaluable and we would be completely lost with out them. A very special shout out to our fabulous pilots who give their time, money and knowledge to make our Young Eagles have a fantastic experience in the air! Thank you Bob D, Rich, Anthony and Bob W. (Who is Willaford? )

YE Team: Collin

Meet Collin – one of our volunteers on our Young Eagles Team!! We are so excited to have Collin on our team. He is a great role model and fills in where ever he is needed!!!!

Collin will be attending the Florida Institute of Technology in the fall!

“When I was younger, no visit to our local library was complete without taking home a copy of the video “There Goes An Airplane.” I think I wore it out. Nothing excites me more than talking about flying, airplanes and aerospace. I am going to college for aerospace engineering with a dream to one day touch the stars and fly on the ISS, and to walk on the moon. I hope that one day I will contribute to the growing field of aerospace and make a difference in my community. Through Young Eagles, I have achieved my dream of working on and getting my private pilot’s license. By volunteering through EAA, I get the thrill of inspiring others to pursue aviation. ”