GOODING • While sitting in a private plane Tuesday, Nicole Hill couldn’t tell much difference between being on the ground or in the air.
She couldn’t see the agricultural fields or homes while soaring above Gooding. But the 16-year-old — who is blind — could feel the pilot maneuvering his 1964 Piper Cherokee.
“As soon as we got completely off the ground, it got really bumpy,” she said. “I think it was because of the wind.”
Nicole was among dozens of students from the Idaho School for the Deaf and the Blind who took plane rides Tuesday at the Gooding Municipal Airport. It was part of the Experimental Aircraft Association’s nationwide Young Eagles program. It’s the ninth year ISDB has participated.
“Every year, we have some new students,” ISDB education director Gretchen Spooner said. “It’s really fun to watch them have the opportunity to fly in a small private plane.”
Seven private pilots — most hailing from eastern Idaho — volunteered their time.
They each brought their private plane and covered all of their own expenses including fuel.
Over the years, the EAA has provided plane rides for 1.2 million children nationwide through its “Young Eagles” program.
Nine years ago, EAA member Dale Cresap read an article about a pilot recalling his most memorable flight — taking a girl who is blind up in a plane. After doing research, Cresap discovered ISDB and contacted the school about starting a flight day. Since then, he has participated nearly every year.
“They were eager to have that experience for their kids,” he said.
Participating children ranged in age from 8 to 21. EAA rules state children must be at least 8 years old to participate. Younger students at ISDB look forward to turning eight so they can go up in a plane, Spooner said.
Cresap said he enjoys seeing the enthusiasm of ISDB students, calling it a “heartwarming” experience. Many students had huge smiles on their faces after their flight.
Planes ranged in size, accommodating one to three students, plus the pilot.
When it was time for Nicole to fly, Nathan Smith of Idaho Falls helped her climb into his four-seater plane. She sat in a backseat next to 11-year-old Taylor Spencer, of Jerome.
Both girls are new to ISDB this year and it was their first time participating in the Young Eagles day.
Smith asked if the girls had their headsets on. “It’s kind of noisy without them,” he said. He talked to the girls about the plane and explained how some of the dashboard instruments work.
After takeoff, Taylor leaned over to the window and peered down below as they flew above Gooding. For most of the flight, there was a huge smile on her face.
Next to her, Nicole had her arms crossed. Occasionally, she turned her head left or right.
The loop around Gooding took less than 20 minutes.
“My favorite part was going up,” Taylor said, adding she liked takeoff better than landing. But she was smiling as the plane landed and was giggling with excitement after getting out.
“I like flying a lot,” she said.
Here’s what six other students said about their flight, some through an American Sign Language interpreter:
Connor Wynn, 15
“It’s awesome,” he said. Conner — who is hard of hearing — said he wasn’t nervous. “I was more excited than anything,” he said. He enjoyed seeing the landscape as they flew over Gooding.
Taylor Bullock, 16
Taylor — who is deaf — said the flight “felt like music.” She compared it to how she can feel the “boom, boom, boom” of a song’s baseline.
After getting off the plane, she covered her ears. “It actually hurt my ears,” she said.
Ella Kidd, 17
Ella — who is deaf — was too scared to participate in last year’s flight day. At the time, she had never been on a plane. But she recently took her first flight — a trip to California. This year, she was ready to fly in a private plane.
“Now that I did it, I love it,” she said.
She asked the pilot several questions, including how long he has been flying: 10 years. “I thought, ‘OK, I really trust you,’” she said.
Julieanna Torres, 10
After getting off a plane, Julieanna pulled her sweatshirt down over her knees and shivered as a cool breeze blew across the tarmac.
“I felt the plane going up and down,” said Julieanna, who is deaf. “It felt bumpy.”
Brian Alarcon, 21
After his flight, he used his white cane to make his way back to the group. Brian, who is blind, liked how the ride was bumpy and he could feel when the pilot maneuvered the plane in different directions.
And “the plane was vibrating,” he said.
Natalie Benitez, 8
It was the first year Natalie — who is deaf — was finally old enough to participate in flight day. She has been as ISDB since preschool.
“It was so fun,” she said. Her favorite part of the flight was seeing ISDB’s campus from the plane. “Man, we just went so high,” she said, and she could feel her stomach getting upset.