Though confined to the ground, hundreds of kindergartners had their heads in the clouds during a special field trip Friday.
From inside an airport hangar, they walked among planes with their arms extended like wings, as though gravity could be defied.
“Today, you are all pilots,” said Austen Plain, president of Take Flight Inc.
The nonprofit hosted the Ervin Early Learning Center Fly Day, during which students from the Hickman Mills school toured a hangar at the Lee’s Summit Municipal Airport.
Each student had the chance to sit in an airplane cockpit and take command of the yoke, or wheel. Pilots donated their time and aircraft, which included a twin-engine Piper Chieftain, Cessna high-wing 172 and a helicopter.
Though low clouds prevented an airshow by the Kansas City Flight Team, the students’ excitement appeared unhampered.
Pilots gave an overview of planes’ controls as students maneuvered the helm.
Inside the cockpit of one plane, kindergartner Donnell Suttington glanced left and right, his eyes taking in the complex instrumental panel as he guided the yoke to each side, then forward and backward.
Earlier in the day, he had asked how fast planes could travel and if they could fly upside down.
Afterward, Donnell imagined takeoff by shooting both of his arms into the air. He said that if he could fly, “I’d want to go fast the whole time.”
It was the fifth annual Fly Day for the Ervin Early Learning Center. In its first year, about 100 students participated. This year, there were more than 500.
Plain and Connie Brennan, a kindergarten teacher at Ervin, first conceived of Fly Day. Brennan said in some years, the trip to the airport is the only one students take. Funds are sometimes scarce for field trips in the school, in which 100 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.
Tonae Gray, a family-school liaison at Ervin, said many students have never flown in an airplane or helicopter.
The trip transforms flying from an abstract idea that exists on TV and in books into a concrete possibility, Gray said.
“These experiences are priceless,” she added.
Briana Barrados, 5, and Joshua Garcia, 6, envisioned taking flight after sitting in a cockpit.
“It’s like you’re flying with your own wings, like you’re flying on your own,” Briana said.
Joshua added, “The blue plane — you can go 5 miles up. You have to wear something over your mouth so you don’t pass out.” A look of awe appeared on his face.
Fly Day typically coincides with a unit on transportation in the classroom, Brennan said, and it provides a real-world framework for students’ writing assignments.
“They’ll already have an anchor within themselves to draw from,” Brennan said.
Plain formed the nonprofit Take Flight Inc. this year as the number of students participating in Fly Day continues to grow. Before this year, he and Brennan had worked together to host the trips.
“I get really excited when (students) pull on my pant leg or shirt, and they tell me they’re going to be a pilot one day,” Plain said.
Aside from pilots, first responders with the Lee’s Summit fire and police departments provided tours of their vehicles and brief lessons on safety.
Plain said he hopes Fly Day encourages students to “dream big and go on to ... find their own passion through the experiences here that they have.”
How to donate
Take Flight Inc.’s mission is to give underprivileged children a chance to learn about aviation and to provide those with physical and developmental disabilities the opportunity to experience lifelong dreams.
Donations can be made to Take Flight Inc. by mailing a check to 312 S.W. Market St., Lee’s Summit, MO 64063.
Learn more at the nonprofit’s Facebook page: Take Flight, Inc.