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People: Harry Shin Flies with the Eagles

(Photo - Harry Shin and a student)
Harry Shin (right) and one of his flight companions in the Young Eagles program. (Photo courtesy Harry Shin.)

Once a month, SLAC mechanical engineer Harry Shin gives curious children a new perspective on the world—literally.

Shin is a volunteer pilot in the Experimental Aircraft Association's Young Eagles program, which provides free plane trips for children aged 7 to 17. As a participant in his local EAA chapter's Young Eagles program, Shin takes children for a ride around the Bay Area in his personal airplane, in an effort to introduce a new generation to the world of aviation.

Shin credits his father, also a pilot, for taking him flying from a very young age and inspiring him to get his own license when he was 18. "Airports used to be a beehive of activity," Shin said, lamenting at the dwindling number of pilots and lack of replacements for retirees. While Shin spends his days at SLAC maintaining cooling towers and providing support to various research projects across the lab, he hopes that his involvement in the Young Eagles program will help influence youngsters to consider aviation careers , or flying as an avocation.

He fondly recalls one eight-year-old participant who came back for three flights in the same year, each time requesting to fly with Shin. Shin initially took him for a 15-minute flight, but by the third visit he had extended the ride to 45 minutes, even flying over the young co-pilot's own house.

"He really loved the flying part," Shin said. The eager Young Eagle had taken hold of the control stick while taxiing down the runway; after showing him how to control the airplane, Shin let him fly the plane and took over again to land. He says that the children find flying easy—many tell him they have a flight simulator on their computer—but he stresses the importance of being a safe pilot, especially in the crowded airspace surrounding the Bay Area.

Shin is happy to pilot not only the young but also the young at heart. He takes his Citabria—that's airbatic, the type of plane he owns, spelled backwards—in the air most weekends, and extends invitations to his colleagues to join him. "There are a wide range of personalities here at SLAC," he said, adding that the most enjoyable part of his job is being able to interact with other people who share his appreciation for learning.

He often goes on leisurely trips to the coast, to San Francisco, or around the edges of the Bay at only 3500 feet. "It's like experiencing the area from a Peter Pan perspective," he said

—Lauren Rugani
SLAC Today, June 2, 2010