Williamson gives free airplane rides

By John Huxman

Freelance reporter

Special to the Tribune

On Labor Day last week, Haviland’s Gail Ballard Airport celebrated its 53rd year of operation with its annual labor-day fly-in. The event provided free airplane rides for children through the Young Eagles program. Pratt resident and business owner Terry Williamson provided most of the plane rides.

“We invite people from all over,” Williamson said. “Airplanes fly in from Wichita, from Oklahoma, from Western Kansas, and we didn’t have many planes this year because of high winds, but we had kids from Hayes, Wichita, Pratt, Haviland, and Greensburg and we flew 26 kids.”

Originally, there were supposed to be several aircraft providing rides, but only Williamson’s 1968 Cessna 150H ended up being available for that purpose. In total, 26 children were given rides. All but five of those were flown by Williamson himself. Williamson’s former flight instructor, Robert Ellis, flew the other five in order to give Williamson a break. Since the aircraft had only two seats, one for the pilot and one for a single passenger, the 26 kids were each given a ride in a separate flight.

“That’s a pretty long day,” Williamson said. “We had Young Eagles [scheduled] for 8 to 11, so I told the kids that whoever hung around would get their flight. We stopped flying at 1:30; so our 8-11 a.m. event ended at 1:30 in the afternoon.”

Williamson said that, unfortunately, there were some kids who did not wait and had to leave without getting a ride. Those who stayed however, were ecstatic about the experience.

Brice Nelson and Devin Sizemore waiting in line for much of the morning, both said they felt nervous about getting in the airplane.

After landing Sizemore said she would definitely want to go again if she could. Nelson also said he really enjoyed the view.

Williamson said that the Young Eagles program was started in 1992 in order to introduce and inspire kids in the word of aviation.

“Its for kids ages 8 to 17 who are interested in aviation. Most of the time we get kids that are interested in just a free plane ride, but sometimes we also get people who are very interested in becoming a pilot later on in life,” said Williamson.

Part of the purpose of the program is to help alleviate the current pilot shortage.

Williamson said he has owned his aircraft since January of 2020, having been in training as a pilot since 2018. Before that, he had been flying powered parachutes, a hobby that he took up in 2008. He got into the Young Eagles program in the fall of 2020.

“I am certified to give rides. There is an extensive background check… your plane has to be passed for certification and that sort of thing,” he said.

Experience is also a requirement for certification to give rides, and Williamson has a lot of experience. Williamson has 500 hours of flight time and around 900 landings and takeoffs.

“I have taken probably around 70 to 90 kids up in the air for Young Eagle flights and I go all over for Young Eagles. I go to Jabara quite a bit. I’ve been down to Wellington to fly kids. I’ve flown them out of Pratt, out of Haviland, Ellsworth (I think), Stearman (which is the Benton airport),” he said.

In addition to the Young Eagles program, Williamson also flies for Pilots and Paws. Both programs involve the pilots donating their time and the fuel and other operating costs.

“If anyone wants a Young Eagle flight, they are welcome to get a hold of me and I’d be happy to take kids up, my schedule and weather permitting. I want to continue flying Young Eagles; Young Eagles is a wonderful program and I want to get as many kids as I can involved in aviation.”