By Henry M. Holden
The 23rd Gathering of Eagles fundraising event, held July 31, during EAA AirVenture Oshkosh, drew more than 1,000 people to the EAA Museum’s Eagle Hangar for dinner and auctions to raise money for the Young Eagles program. The traditional live and silent auctions collected $2.88 million, almost twice last year’s sum.
The Gathering of Eagles attracts some of the most prestigious and influential people in general aviation. This year’s guests included Cliff Robertson, former Young Eagles chairman and Academy Award winner, and Harrison Ford, current chairman and Academy Award nominee. Other notable guests included Academy Award nominee John Travolta, actor and accomplished aerobatic pilot David Ellison, golf champion Arnold Palmer, aerobatic pilot and author Kermit Weeks and Edsel Ford II.
EAA President Tom Poberezny noted the importance of the Young Eagles programs.
“The children and youth we introduce to aviation today are the members, engineers and innovators of tomorrow,” he said. More than 1.4 million young people have become Young Eagles.
For the fourth consecutive year, Cessna Aircraft Company served as the hosting sponsor of the gala. CEO Jack Pelton expressed the company’s pride in supporting Young Eagles.
“EAA does a fantastic job of preserving the history of aviation and ensures the future through this important program,” he said.
The event raises money for EAA’s mission-oriented youth programs, such as the first flight experience to 80,000 to 100,000 children each year, and follow-up programs including academic scholarships, EAA Air Academy and online instruction.
Ford, whose term as chairman of the Young Eagles ends in 2009, says the program can act as an ambassador to regulators, communities and the industry, and can help protect general aviation.
“There are a lot of threats to general aviation today,” he said. “Young Eagles can help us show the value of GA in our communities. Because of that, it becomes even more important to maintain the program and to keep the events going around the country.”
The traditional matching donation program, “Raise the Windsock,” gave donors an opportunity to outbid each other for the Young Eagles auction items. Donations to this year’s record-breaking auction included a seven-day VIP package for two at AirVenture 2009, $30,000; a Hollywood VIP weekend for two with David Ellison, $26,000; a five-day private wine-tasting tour for four to New York and California wineries, $28,000; an aerobatic flight and golf game with Sean D. Tucker, $55,000; a 105th anniversary limited-edition Harley Davidson motorcycle, $24,000; a trip for two to Paris as guests of Airbus and an A380 type certificate, $32,000; and a day with Harrison Ford package, $40,000.
Celebrities shared their personal stories about why aviation and the Young Eagles programs are important to them.
“I didn’t come to flying until I was 53 years old,” Ford said. “But it has made me feel young and challenged again, and has given me an opportunity to give back.”
Champion golfer Arnold Palmer doubts that his golf career would have existed without aviation.
“When I was young, I was afraid to fly, and I knew that I couldn’t have this job without air travel,” he said. “So I learned to fly, fell in love with aviation and now have more than 18,000 hours logged.”
Back at AirVenture for the first time in 28 years, actor John Travolta urged members to fly with more young people.
“When I was a kid, everyone was interested in flying,” Travolta said. “Nowadays, programs like this will keep that interest alive and motivate the next generation.”
The high point of the auction was the much-anticipated arrival of a unique automobile—a special-edition Ford Mustang AV8R, specially designed for the gala’s fundraiser. The one-of-a-kind, P-51-inspired vehicle features a full-glass roof and interior appointments reminiscent of the P-51 cockpit. The dashboard is signed by the Ford designer, the engineer, legendary Ford officials—Jack Roush, Edsel Ford II and Carroll Shelby—and Harrison Ford. The Mustang AV8R raised $500,000.
“Because of this generous giving, we can keep kids flying, and keep general aviation at the top of the minds of communities all over the country,” stated Poberezny during his closing comments.
For more information about the EAA Young Eagles program, visit [http://www.youngeagles.org].