When Joe Kuhna of Hagerstown took his grandchildren to the Wings and Wheels Expo at Hagerstown Regional Airport Saturday, he thought they would see some cool planes.
He had no idea he would find himself standing on the ground waving as they headed thousands of feet into the sky in a Piper Archer.
His granddaughter, Madeline Semler, 8, of Hagerstown, had flown commercial to Disney World and ridden in a helicopter before. But 20 minutes in a light aircraft with her brother Matthew, 5, still was a thrill, she said.
“It was really fun. I kind of felt like it was pushing me up,” she said. “It kept turning really steep, and it felt like we were going to fall, then we would come back up.”
The free ride was compliments of the Experimental Aircraft Association through the Young Eagles Program, ground person Sandy Hissey said. Pilots volunteered their time to give rides to 78 children ages 8 to 17 throughout the event. Following the ride, children received a rider certificate, a book to log flight hours and an opportunity to participate in ground school online for free.
“I think this is great,” Kuhna said. “Who knows. Maybe they will be future aviators.”
John Seburn, president of the Hagerstown Aviation Museum, said organizers were hoping to generate such excitement through the event. In its inaugural year last year, the expo was two days and admission was $10. This year, it was shortened to one day and admission was free to allow access to more people.
“Instead of bringing in more planes that we would need to pay for, we decided to focus on the planes and resources we have here and offer it for free,” he said.
In addition to the Young Eagles plane rides, the event featured a car show; open airport access; a display and tours of museum and visiting aircraft; remote control aircraft demonstrations; and a resource fair with the presence of the Pittsburgh Institute of Aeronautics, Civil Air Patrol and others.
The aviation museum continues an ongoing effort to find a home for its collection, which currently is stored in various airport hangars, Seburn said.
“This event gives the museum a chance to bring out our aircraft collection and open it to the public,” he said. “Kids are climbing in the cockpits and pretending they are driving. This is an open house for the museum, in a sense.”
The collection includes two large Fairchild “Flying Boxcars” that were built at the factory on airport grounds. Inside those planes were exhibits, films, history panels and volunteers offering information. Fairchild PT-19s and a Fairchild PT-26, which were used to train allied pilots during World War II, also were on display.
Seburn said about 2,200 people attended the event.
Among them was a “Rosie the Riveter,” Seburn said, a woman from Hagerstown who worked in the Fairchild factory during World War II.
“She told a story about the booms. She was on the back of a plane riveting when the shift changed. The workers on the outside left and she was stuck on the inside,” he said. “That’s what this is for, the folks who helped build them. It’s to tell their stories and remember that history.”
Audrey Barnhart, 34, and her son, Jayden Rhodes, 9, of Hagerstown, were impressed by a 1980s jet displayed by Rider Jet Center that had heat-seeking missiles. Another aircraft was equipped with hooks underneath to attach to an aircraft carrier.
“The plane would be hooked to the boat with bungees and they would just sling the jet off,” Barnhart said excitedly.
Eric Mansfield of Frederick, Md., has his private pilot license and took his children, Zandis, 6, and Matilde, 4, to the expo to share his fascination with aviation. He pointed to the sky and told them about an amphibious seaplane flying over.
“I’ve been fascinated with flying since I was a boy. It was the stuff of my dreams and now, my dreams have come true. To be above the ground looking down at everything below,” he said.
Seburn said airport activities would continue into Saturday night with the third annual Discovery Station HangarFest at the Rider Jet Center.