Although the line was long at times, the children waited patiently for their turn inside the cockpit. Some chatted nervously while others waited in silence, their excitement growing as the line shortened in front of them.
The children, referred to as "Young Eagles," were offered free airplane rides Saturday through a program founded by the Experimental Aircraft Association some 25 years ago.
Hosting this year's local Celebration of Flight was the Tehachapi Society of Pilots, which opened the gates of Tehachapi Municipal Airport and gathered at Aviator Park.
"The TSP relies on us, as the EAA members, to put on the Young Eagles' Rally part of this open house," said Tom "Duke" Wayne, of Chapter 1000 of the EEA based out of Edwards Air Force Base. A second chapter of the EAA operates locally, Chapter 49, based out of Fox Field in Lancaster.
"We team up with the TSP and also a local organization called Women in Aviation, and we put on this event to get young folks interested in aviation," Wayne said.
During the morning hours, dozens of Young Eagles were given 15-minute flight rides over the streets of Tehachapi and across the skies of Cummings Valley. As the wind picked up later in the morning, Wayne said organizers decided to stop taking applications for free rides by noon.
"We do not want this to be an unpleasant first experience for some of the kids," laughed Wayne. "We do require that the weather be nice."
Wayne said some of the children were given the opportunity to fly the aircraft to get a feel for the whole flying experience at the discretion of the pilot who remained in control of the plane.
Asked if she was excited about going up, "Yah," said Rebecca Lambrecht, 9, before hurrying off as her wait came to an end.
After coming in for a landing, Brian Mendoza, 15, said it was also his first time to fly the skies.
"It was exciting," said Mendoza, a sophomore at Tehachapi High School, adding he does not want to pursue a pilot's license. "That's not for me. This was just for the thrill of it."
Mendoza said he was looking forward to the day he would fly in a commercial airline. Asked if he was troubled by the wind during his flight, he said, "A little bit, but it's just Tehachapi."
In addition to the free airplane rides offered to Young Eagles (ages 8 to 17), the Celebration of Flight featured aircraft on display, lectures by local pilots and Space Ship One astronaut Mike Melville.
Families took advantage of the cool temperatures by throwing blankets on the grass before settling down to enjoy the hamburgers and hot dogs sold during the event.
"Why does the planes go backwards?" asked one curious 3-year-old named Daniel Creger who stood playing with a toy airplane he received at the celebration.
Asked if he wanted to fly airplanes when he grows up, Daniel said, "maybe," with a shrug of his shoulders before pointing excitedly at an airplane getting ready to take off.
"The propellers are moving," Daniel said jumping up and down. "That's what happens when they go up!"
Wayne said the EAA came up with the idea of offering free airplane rides to children as a way to give back to the community through outreach.
Said Wayne, "A lot of us go flying on Saturday afternoons with nobody in the right seat or the backseat, and we just as soon have somebody to share it with, especially if they are a youngster who might be interested in flying. So, we started the Young Eagles Rally, and it has worked out really well."
Since its inception, the Young Eagles Program has attracted many young children who later went on to get their pilot's licenses or pursue careers with major airlines.
According to a news release, the Tehachapi Society of Pilots, made up of local area pilots and aviation enthusiasts, is an organization operated exclusively for charitable and educational purposes. TSP provides programs and conducts activities to educate students and citizens, and exchange views with city and county officials concerning the safety and economic value of the Tehachapi Municipal Airport and other Kern County airports, as a vital part of California’s air transportation system.
The TSP created a scholarship program to help local students plan a career in aerospace and aviation, providing funds for a pilot’s license or for college tuition.
Said Wayne, "All the volunteers here, both on the ground and in flight, get a pretty big kick out of this. It is our privilege and pleasure to be able to share this with the community."