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By J. Patrick O’Leary

Wheat Ridge resident Fred Hollendorfer has given more than 100 young people a free demonstration ride in his home-built airplane as part of the “Young Eagles” program. The retired airline pilot built his metal, two-seat RV-8 in his garage over a dozen years, and has volunteered his time, airplane and gas in the program since January of 2016.

The Young Eagles Program was unveiled by the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) in July 1992 and has now flown more than 2 million young people, primarily between the ages of 8 and 17. Its goal is to allow young people to experience positive activities and discover the possibilities available to them within the world of aviation, according to the EAA. The worldwide organization has 190,000 members who enjoy all facets of recreational flight. 

Fred flew his 100th mission in late January, and flew with a half-dozen more youths in early March, all during rallies at Front Range Airport, east of Denver just outside of Watkins; a mission is one flight with a child, and a rally is a Friday evening and Saturday morning event in which youth receive a flight orientation and fly with volunteer pilots in their aircraft.

Fred is among the more than 50,000 volunteers around the world who have donated their time and aircraft to the effort, according to the EAA. He’s been a member of EAA since 1979.

“I wanted to give back,” said Fred, recalling his personal journey to becoming an airline pilot, his since-childhood desire to build an airplane, and the airlines’ current need for pilots.

“It’s just kind of fun, a way to get together with your aviation buddies and other builders and fly with the kids.”

Kids who have signed up for the program, accompanied by a parent or guardian, meet with a “ground crew” the Friday night before. There, the young pilots receive an explanation of the safe operation of airplanes and principles of flight, according to the EAA.

Chapter 301 typically holds this briefing at a firehouse south of Denver where its meetings take place. There are at least two other EAA chapters in the metropolitan area, and they hold their own rallies and meetings at other airports.

“Saturday morning, that’s where I come in,” said Fred. A briefing for the pilots (and ground crew) takes place at the airport at 7:45. “We get reminders of things like keep the kids off the stick (not touching the aircraft’s controls) until out of area” and what speeds to fly at. He credits Chapter 301 coordinator Rudi Kneiss for putting it all together: “If it weren’t for Rudy, it would not happen.”

“There’s no charge to kids,” said Fred. He typically flies four or five missions each rally, burning 18 to 20 gallons of fuel, which costs $4.49 per gallon at Front Range. That’s paid for out of his own pocket.

Participating young people become official Young Eagles after completing the flight, according to the EAA. The names of the pilots and the participants are also included in the ‘World’s Largest Logbook,’ which is on permanent display in the EAA AirVenture Museum in Oshkosh, Wis., and online through the Young Eagles website.  The youngsters then have access to an online pilot training course. (For more information, visit www.youngeagles.org.)

Fred is from an aviation family. His grandfather, Vearne Clifton Babcock, was one of the first licensed pilots in the U.S., flew with the French in World War I, and afterward set up Babcock Aircraft Co., in DeLand, FL. Babcock designed and built the Taub and Airmaster aircraft, and in World War II his company built 60 Waco troop gliders for the Army. His father, also Fred Hollendorfer (but no middle initial), flew Boeing B-17 bombers from England in World War II, and joined the Air Force after the war, taking his family to Japan and eventually Florida.

The paint and markings on Fred’s airplane pay homage to his father and grandfather.

“The colors on my RV are the same as one of the aircraft that my grandad designed and built in the early ‘30s,” said Fred. “Also the N-number (registration number) is the same as well – N998W.”

“The triangle ‘L’ on the tail is the emblem of the 381st Bomb Group Heavy, my dad’s bomb  group in World War II,” he explained. “The nose art is that of the 533rd Bomb Squadron, which is part of the same Group.”

Fred remembers telling his father that he wanted to be an Air Force pilot, but dad discouraged him, believing he would not be accepted for flight training because of less-than-perfect eyesight and hearing. But civilian pilots don’t face the same restrictions, and Fred earned his private pilot’s license, while in high school, in Syracuse, NY; he solo’d (first flight without a flight instructor aboard) before he earned his drivers’ license. He applied for and received waivers for his eyesight and hearing, and paid for his commercial pilot’s license training. After serving in the Air Force, he earned a bachelor's’ degree in Business/Accounting from Metropolitan State College in Denver, and used G.I. Bill benefits to pay for advanced flight training, which opened the door to a flying career, in which he flew aircraft ranging in size and speed between small twin-engine airplanes to Airbus A320s, for airlines and local aviation companies.

Fred married Dona Konecny in 1985 when he was flying for Aspen Airways, and settled down in Wheat Ridge. Dona will retire soon from her career as a flight attendant for Frontier. They have two children and three grandchildren.

When not flying kids in Young Eagles, Fred will fly to Akron for gas, Greeley for lunch, then come back and “shoot” landings.

Dona enjoys flying, too, and every year they join their daughter, her husband and kids at a condo on the Arkansas River in Salida. The daughter’s family drives and takes their luggage.

“We fly there. By the time they arrive, we’ve already been to the store and opened up the place.”