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‘First Flight’ to fly kids from Statesboro Airport Saturday
First Flight
In this file photo, Thrill of First Flight organizer John Ratcliff, in blue event T-shirt and suspenders, has children gather around for an impromptu paper airplane flying contest in the Statesboro-Bulloch County Airport terminal during the May 18 rainout. First Flight, offering free rides in real planes, will try again on Saturday, June 15. - photo by AL HACKLE/Staff

This Saturday brings the relaunch of the “Thrill of the First Flight” event at the Statesboro-Bulloch County Airport, with free flights for youth in third through 12th grades and flight-related family activities on the ground scheduled from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m.

Sponsoring nonprofit organization Black Pilots of America, lead organizer John Ratcliffe and volunteers from near and far first tried this on May 18, when a large group of children and teens who registered in advance showed up but cloudy skies and intermittent rain kept all but five from flying.

With the June 15 date of this second attempt announced soon afterward, 82 youth in the target age group signed up, in addition to the 125 considered to have a raincheck for a flight carried over from the first try, reports event coordinator Beth Williams. That adds up to 207 potential first-flyers. But those on the original list were asked only to cancel through a website if they couldn’t make it this weekend, so it’s uncertain how many will show. Other parent-accompanied youth can just come out and may be offered flights, she said.

“It’s a five-hour event. … So we feel like we can take some people who just show up, too,” said Williams.

Children and teens who will fly are required to be arrive with a parent or guardian who remains at the event. But flights – loops of about 20 minutes out and back – will be provided to small groups of youths in single-engine, multi-seat planes with volunteer pilots. Eight pilots are currently slated to bring planes.

Electronic flight simulators will be available on the ground for youth who don’t wish to fly. Food trucks will be back, with some free lunch items for children and youth.

Air Evac is scheduled to have a helicopter on static display.

This time, the National Weather Service forecast doesn’t include rain, but shows Saturday’s temperatures topping out at 100 degrees.

Ratcliffe, a U.S. Air Force veteran who flew F-4 Phantom jets in the Vietnam War and went on to a career as Ford Motor Company’s chief corporate pilot, has made Savannah his home in retirement. He and the Black Pilots of America have hosted Thrill of the Flight events at the Waycross-Ware County Airport for three consecutive years. They also partnered with some other organizations to hold a first-time similar event at Savannah-Hilton Head International Airport in March.

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