Baltimore city public school students piled into a Cessna Skyhawk at the Martin State Airport in Middle River. Photo by Zshekinah Collier/WYPR.

After being strapped into a single engine Cessna Skyhawk and soaring above the city of Baltimore, local student Christian Baten said it was amazing.

“I felt above all of my problems,” said Baten.

His experience in a free summer program in partnership between the city’s park department and the Maryland Aviation Administration spurred inspiration to consider a career in aviation.

And that was the goal organizers said as students prepared to take a plane ride from the Martin State Airport in Middle River on Thursday morning.

About 50 students were hosted from Baltimore city schools this summer to explore careers in aviation and transportation through the Baltimore Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport Summer Youth Initiative.

Between 2015 and 2019 about 50 students each year have gone through the program, which was paused until this summer because of the coronavirus pandemic. The program was created after Freddie Gray died while in police custody and unrest across the city sparked riots and peaceful protests.

“We thought at the airport that it would be beneficial if we could do something to expose kids to a different environment,” said Ricky Smith, executive director of the BWI airport.

For many children, this was their first taste of flying high in the sky.

Adriel Jennings had never been on an airplane before. The 12-year-old said he was “pretty worried at first” but that it “wasn’t too bad.”

Blake Berry, 11, described his experience in the air as “crazy” and said he felt his stomach drop while in the air.