Matthew Albright / Houma Courier
HOUMA, La. - When 9-year-old Connor Diroir climbed out of the spare, three-seater airplane at the Houma-Terrebonne Airport on Saturday, his eyes were wide.
“I was pretty scared when we were taking off,” Diroir admitted. “But it was really good. Once we got up, it was more exciting than anything.”
Diroir, who is from Grand Caillou, got a chance to see south Louisiana from the air.
“Now I’ve seen where all those lilies come from,” he said.
Diroir is one of several Young Eagles who hitched a ride through the sky Saturday as part of the annual fly-in hosted by the Houma chapter of the Experimental Aircraft Association.
Diroir’s father, Keith, said he didn’t know what to expect when he heard about the event.
“I’m glad we came out here,” he said. “We’ve talked to some real nice people, and they’ve told us a lot of interesting things about all the planes they’ve got here.”
The fly-in brought planes and enthusiasts from all over the region, who came and went as they pleased. By noon, about 20 planes of all kinds had gathered, from larger passenger planes to tiny one-seaters built in home garages.
The event also attracted antique cars, military vehicles and fire trucks from local stations.
Newton Boudreaux, an EAA member who helped organize the event, said the gathered machines are a young kid’s dream.
“We’re doing this to connect the aviation community, but it’s obviously something where we can get kids excited about flying,” he said. “There aren’t enough people learning to fly, getting involved in it. It’s deteriorating.”
As he spoke, a silver T-6 Texan swooped in and parked. Its propeller kicked up a mighty wind, ruffling hair and clothes and bringing hands to hats.
“That’s a pretty plane,” Boudreaux said, admiring it as it glided to a stop.
Sonny Schilleci, now in his 30s, owns and flies the plane, given to him by his father. He’s been an aviator since he was young — he “soloed” for the first time when he was 16 years old.
“It’s all about the nostalgia,” Schilleci said of his plane, which pilots in World War II used to train before taking control of fighter planes.
Schilleci said flying the plane isn’t like sitting in an airliner.
“It’s down and dirty. It’s smelly, it’s loud, and it can get uncomfortable,” he said. “But that plane has character. It’s a little hard to describe.”
The event also included several more modern military aircraft. A crew of Coast Guardsmen out of Belle Chasse flew in on an MH-65 Charlie helicopter, used for search-and-rescue missions, environmental patrols and other purposes.
“When we heard about this, we thought we’d take the time to come show people how all of this works,” Lt. Scott Austin said.
This particular helicopter had been on one especially important mission. Austin flew it offshore when responding last year’s explosion on the Deepwater Horizon.
“When we took off, we had on our night vision,” Austin remembered. “As soon as we were up in the air, you could just see the horizon lit up because of the fire.”
Austin’s fellow crew member, Micah Darroc, said the helicopter and its equipment got a wide-eyed response from the children who saw it.
“Some of them immediately wanted to fly it,” he said. “Some of them were scared the whole time they were in it that we were going to take off.”
Staff Writer Matthew Albright can be reached at 448-7635 or at email@example.com.