MUSCATINE, Iowa — Eight-year-old Jack Mahoney was all smiles when he finished flying his first plane Sunday at the Muscatine Municipal airport.

“It was awesome,” said  Mahoney, a guest passenger at the Young Eagles Rally, a free public event staged by the local Experimental Aircraft Association, Chapter 111.

About four other children waited for their turn while Pilot George Bedeian took Mahoney up.

Bedeian said there are two sets of flight controls, and he invited Mahoney to steer the plane.

“I told him not to worry about the instruments, just keep the wings level with the horizon,” said Bedeian.

Mahoney said he was only expecting to look out the window but was thrilled to be a junior pilot, even for a short time.

“It was my favorite part of the flight,” said Mahoney.

Young Eagles coordinator Dean E. Beranek said the rally is part of the association’s Young Eagles Program, which was created in 1992 to get more young people interested in aviation.

“We have learned that many children who fly with the Young Eagles Program go on to become pilots or study for other jobs in aviation,” said Bedeian.

All children and young adults ages 8-17 were invited to take a free airplane rides with a parent’s or guardian’s permission.

Mahoney’s mother, Emily Geertz of West Liberty, said she was grateful to have an opportunity to send her son on a flight.

“I would have loved to do this as a young kid,” said Geertz. “I would have been ecstatic.”

 Following the flight, each flier received a certificate stating that they are  official Young Eagles.

The certificates bear the signatures of national chairpersons Chesley Sullenberger and  Jeffrey Skiles, the pilots who saved their passengers in January 2009 by landing U.S. Airways Flight 1549 safely  into the Hudson River after plane’s collision with a flock of geese.

 The youngsters’ names were also entered in the “World’s Largest Logbook,” an electronic database accessible in a permanent display at the Experimental Aircraft Association in Oshkosh, Wis., and at www.youngeagles.com

Bedeian is a member of an aviation co-op called the Flying Country Club in Moline, Ill. He said his group hopes to recruit more members.

“We have 49, but we like to keep it around 70,” he said.

Additional information about the Flying Country Club can be found at http://www.flyingcc.org/ or by calling 309-799-7446.