Truckee’s Young Eagles program opens a door into the aviation community

Hannah Jones

“Now stick your head out the window and yell ‘clear’ really loudly,” Tom Meadows said to Abby Kylberg, a senior at Truckee High School sitting in the co-pilot’s seat of his Cessna 172.

Meadows was about to take Kylberg flying for the first time as part of the Experimental Aircraft Association Young Eagles program. The coalition of pilots at the Truckee Airport volunteer their time and aircraft to take young people ages eight through 17 on a free flight to spark interest in flying.

This flight, though, would be Meadows’ 1,500th with a Young Eagle.

Kylberg shouted “clear” as Meadows started the engine and the plane made its way to the runway. Before taking off, Meadows has his students read necessary commands to the control tower off a cheat sheet he created.

The Truckee (EAA) Chapter has flown 4,518 kids since the start of the program, including 343 in 2018.

“I call it the accordion sheet of paper,” he said. “It unfolds to show the statements that I want them to read over the radio to the tower.”

The plane took off and Meadows set a course toward Lake Tahoe, circling around the north shore before heading west to fly directly above Squaw Valley and then back to the airport. Throughout the flight, Meadows allowed Kylberg to take control of the plane to make small turns, while explaining how the plane would respond to certain actions.

“She did very well considering this was the first time she’s flown a small airplane,” he said.

“He definitely let me do a lot more than I expected,” said Kylberg. “He was very calm about me being behind the wheel.”

Kylberg said she became interested in flying when her boyfriend went through the Pathways to Aviation program at the Truckee Airport, a career-mentoring program that introduces aviation as a career possibility to students.

“It made me interested in at least trying it,” she said, “and now I think it’s a pretty cool thing to do.”

Learning opportunity

After completing the flight, Kylberg received a certificate, a free student membership in the EAA, free access to Sporty’s Pilot Shop’s online “Learn to Fly” course, and an opportunity for an aviation scholarship. Meadows said the Truckee EAA Chapter has awarded 16 tuition and airfare scholarships to the Air Academy in Oshkosh, Wisconsin over the past five years with plans to offer six more scholarships in 2019.

The Young Eagles program began in 1992 with the goal of introducing aviation to one million students by 2003, the 100-year anniversary of the Wright brothers’ first flight in 1903.

There are now over 2.1 million Young Eagles nationwide.

The Truckee Chapter has flown 4,518 kids since the start of the program, including 343 in 2018 which Meadows called “quite an accomplishment for a small town chapter.”

Meadows flew his first student in 1997, eventually joining the top 30 in number of flights flown out of over 50,000 volunteer pilots across the nation. “Flying is just an amazing feeling,” he said. “The pilot is in control of everything. And introducing young people to aviation is really important because it’s such a great profession.”

‘The love of my life’

Both Meadows and his wife, Lynn, are volunteers for the Young Eagles program. While he takes the students up in the air, she does most of the groundwork making sure the paperwork is properly handled and educates the parents on the program. Both received their Private Pilot Certificates in 1978 at the NAS Moffett Field flying club, with Tom continuing on to receive his Flight Instructor Certificate.

The two joined the local EAA chapter in 1996 and immediately became involved in the Young Eagles program. In addition to the local flights around Lake Tahoe the two have taken students on five flights across the country to Ohio.

Tom Meadows considers flying to be his passion and doesn’t plan on stopping anytime soon.

“I don’t know what I would do if I couldn’t fly. It’s the love of my life,” said Meadows.

Truckee’s EAA chapter hosts a pancake breakfast at the airport on the second Saturday of each month except July, to connect with any eligible youth who wants to become a Young Eagle. Meadows said anyone is welcome regardless of EAA membership.

Hannah Jones is a reporter for the Sierra Sun. She can be reached at 530-550-2652 or

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