Shelby Mullis THE REPUBLIC
New Horizons: Local Pilot Volunteers His Time Flying Children, Sharing Love of Aviation
June 17, 2019
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  • It’s all about the kids.

    He’s just a pilot, or so Tom Morone says about himself. More than 300 children from across the state would say differently.

    Morone, of Columbus, has flown airplanes for 39 years out of a love for aviation that started when he was just 6 years old. But it’s the people he has flown for more than 20 of those years that Morone said keep him flying.

    “The pilots, we’re just pilots,” Morone said. “It’s not so much the flying — it’s the kids. Meeting the different kids, who sometimes it’s their first time ever being up in an airplane. A lot of them start out crying, but I’ve never had them crying at the very end. That’s what it’s all about.”

    Morone is a certified flight instructor for the Experimental Aircraft Association’s Young Eagles program, which gives interested young people between ages 8 and 17 the opportunity to fly in a general aviation airplane.

    Since joining the program as a local volunteer more than 20 years ago, Morone has flown more than 300 young people from all walks of life. His main goal is to expose the younger generation to aviation.

    “As the pilot, I just jump in and fly,” Morone said. “It’s a good feeling to see these kids’ faces light up with joy.”

    Morone remembers several of his flights from over the years, including one with a young girl who was very afraid to fly. Morone said he promised the girl a Dr. Pepper, her favorite soda, if she was still scared by the end of the flight.

    Another time, he remembers two sisters who came for a flight. What made that moment memorable was seeing the younger sister encourage and comfort the older sister who was too scared to go up in the air.

    His favorite flight, though, was with someone just outside of the 8-17 age range. For her 93rd birthday, Bertha Kennedy wanted to fly in an airplane. Doctors told Kennedy she had just seven weeks to live, so she wanted to spend part of that time in the air. Morone filled that wish once for Kennedy, and then, on her 96th birthday, she wanted to do it all over again.

    At 96 years old, Kennedy went up in the air for a second time.

    “She was also into motorcycles, and her caregiver said, ‘Tom, you can take her for an airplane ride but you’re not getting her on a motorcycle,’” Morone said.

    Morone said he became a flight instructor to teach his own son how to fly, but as his son grew older, Morone said “teenagers don’t think dads know anything.”

    “I probably didn’t,” Morone joked. “That was 20 years ago.”

    Morone does know at least a little something about flying planes, though — at least enough for so many young people to trust him to fly them around. Morone said the most rewarding part is when he watches the fear escape from a child’s face as they’re up in the air.

    “What’s neat is they address their fears,” Morone said. “My philosophy is if you’re afraid of something — something really scares you — you do it until it no longer scares you.”

    The Experimental Aviation Association Young Eagles program was launched in 1992 to give interested young people ages 8 through 17 the opportunity to fly in a general aviation airplane.

    The volunteers who participate in the Young Eagles program are local members of the association. Each volunteer donates their time and aircraft to make each flight possible.

    All pilots in the Young Eagles program explain the safe operation of airplanes and principles of flight before the short trips. Participating young people become official Young Eagles with the flight.

    The names of the pilots and the participants are also included in the “World’s Largest Logbook,” which is on permanent display in the EAA Aviation Museum in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, and online through the Young Eagles web site. Young Eagles also have access to an online pilot training course, made possible by Sporty’s Pilot Shops, located in Batavia, Ohio.

    The Young Eagles Program was unveiled by the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) in July 1992 and has now flown more than 2 million young people, primarily between the ages of 8 and 17. EAA is a worldwide organization with more than 200,000 members who enjoy all facets of recreational flight.

    For more information, visit

    Source: Experimental Aviation Association