For the past 50 years, the Experimental Aircraft Association chapter 323 has been a local home for aficionados of all forms of aviation. The organization held a ceremony Thursday morning to celebrate its anniversary and the impact the organization has had on aviators of all ages.
“The importance of it (EAA) is to continue to spread information about aviation,” Chapter President Mike McLendon said. “It brings together new and old so they can share their experiences with aviation.”
The event included a fly-in from members of the national organization from Oshkosh, Wisconsin, a luncheon at North Texas Regional Airport — Perrin Field, and the presentation of a $10,000 scholarship to a local teenager. Sherman leaders also took the opportunity to discuss future plans for the airport.
The Experimental Aircraft Association first formed in 1953 as an organization for people interested in home-built aircraft, with the first chapter opening in California less than a year later. At the time, organizers for the group joked EAA would have 100 members in California within a decade. Little did they know it would have 100 chapters by that time.
Now, the organization has nearly 900 chapters, including 25 international and 10 Canadian chapters. The Sherman group was officially formed in February 1969 as the 323rd chapter. EAA Senior Chapter Manager John Egan said 12 chapters will be celebrating their 50th anniversary this year.
“The EAA chapters really are the local portal into aviation in their communities,” Egan said.
Since it was established, the organization has expanded to encompass interests in all aspects of aviation. Among these efforts was the creation of the Young Eagles in 1992, which allows members to take young aviation enthusiasts on free flights on their aircraft.
“Some young people sit in that seat, wiggle around and decide, ‘This is something I want to do, this is right for me,’” Egan said. “That is what the Young Eagle program does.”
As part of Thursday’s festivities, representatives for the EAA gave out a $10,000 scholarship to a young hopeful aviator for his initial flight training and certifications. Jacob Baldridge of Durant was one of only 90 to receive the scholarship in its first year.
Baldridge said his interest in aviation started in his early teens when he joined the Civil Air Patrol and the Young Eagles programs.
“When I took my first Young Eagles flight, it just clicked and I thought, ‘Wow, this is cool,’” he said.
Baldridge said the scholarship will allow him to get his private pilot certificate with additional funds that can be used for future training. His ultimate goal will be to receive his commercial pilot’s training and either fly with Southwest Airlines or the U.S. Air Force, he said.
The funds are an important step toward achieving his dream, Baldridge said, as he is also going to college to study general aviation. His first lessons will come this weekend, he added.