Pilot Allison Laird remembers taking a father and two kids up in her plane last year and seeing the siblings jostle to be in the co-pilot's seat.
She said that sort of enthusiasm, along with "seeing kids grinning from ear to ear," motivates her to keep volunteering as a pilot for the Pennies-A-Pound fund-raiser, held annually at the American Helicopter Museum in West Chester.
This weekend, passengers pay a mere 15 cents a pound for what they weigh or donate $25, if they don't want to get on the scale, to take a 20-minute ride in a small plane. Volunteer pilots will taxi their planes from the Brandywine Airport right to the back of the museum to pick up passengers.
But that's not all that's going on this weekend at the Helicopter Museum. On Saturday, between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m., admission is free as part of an event called Kids Summer FunFest, hosted by a Malvern company called FunPlayDates.com. FunFest itself takes place between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m.
The Pennies-a-Pound event raises money for The Ninety-Nines, an international organization of female pilots. The money goes to a scholarship fund to help women become qualified as pilots. Typically, it costs $6,000 to $7,000 for flight lessons to get a pilot's license, according to Carole Wyman, president of the Eastern Pennsylvania chapter of The Ninety-Nines.
Founded in 1929 by 99 female pilots, including Amelia Earhart, was how the group got its name. The Eastern Pennsylvania chapter was started in 1941, and now has 92 members.
The volunteer group visits schools to talk about aviation and help Girl Scouts earn their aviation badges. They also do air marking, which is painting large call signs onto airport hangars so pilots can see them from the air. They did the air marking for the Brandywine Airport in West Chester, G.O. Carlson Airport in Coatesville, and New Garden Airport in New Garden Township.
At Saturday's free Kids Summer FunFest, there will be a moon bounce, crafts, games and an appearance by Princess Brooke, a storyteller from Dutch Wonderland. Families can even take helicopter rides in a Bell Jet Ranger for $35 a person.
"We live in an incredible, amazing region," said Michell Muldoon, cofounder of the company FunPlayDates.com that's sponsoring FunFest.
She added that more kids are staying inside their houses in front of the television or their video games instead of being physically active. Her company picked the American Helicopter Museum to host its first event because she said it has a great range of indoor and outdoor activities.
There are more than 35 helicopters on display, including the only Osprey V-22 on exhibit in the world. This early version of the military helicopter takes off vertically like a helicopter and then tilts its rotors for horizontal flight like a small turboprop plane. The main fuselage for the Ospreys is manufactured in the Boeing plant in Ridley Park.
The region has "a very rich history in rotary wing flight," said Greg Kennedy, executive director of the museum. "The area is the birthplace of the helicopter industry," he continued.
About three-quarters of the volunteers are retirees from the helicopter industry, said Kennedy. Jim Smith, 76, has been a docent at the museum for 10 years after having worked at Boeing for 27 years. Smith said he loves volunteering because he "can just come here and play the expert," answering questions about copters for the kids.
In the museum, visitors can see an autogiro, an early rotary-wing aircraft made by Pitcairn Autogiro Company in Willow Grove. The company was one of the first helicopter manufacturers in America.
It's a monstrosity of a whirlybird with four long blades on top and a pair of wings with two sets of landing wheels attached below the wings. Piloting an autogiro, Amelia Earhart set a women's world's altitude record of 18,415 feet in 1932 when she took off from Pitcairn Field in Willow Grove.
Austin Reed of Unionville took his two sons, Hoyt, 8, and Adrian, 5, to the American Helicopter Museum for the fourth time. Adrian even had his birthday party there last year. His sons jumped in and out of various cockpits like they were experienced pilots. Reed said, "I think it's one of the boys' favorite museums."
If You Go
Kids Summer FunFest: Saturday 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., free admission to museum and event for adults and children.
Pennies-A-Pound fund-raiser for The Ninety-Nines, Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., free admission to the museum for adults and children;
On Sunday, noon to 5 p.m.. regular admission will be charged. See below.
Plane rides both days cost 15 cents per pound or $25 for each passenger.
Where: American Helicopter Museum, 1220 American Blvd., West Chester, 610-436-9600, www.helicoptermuseum.org.
Normal hours: Open Wednesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday, noon to 5 p.m.
Costs: This Saturday is free. Normal admission is: adults $6; seniors $5; children and students with ID $4, children under 2 with parent, free.