During January, I posted here in my blog a piece entitled “Kentucky Is Serious About Aviation Education”. I posted another in May about “Youth Interest in Aviation Careers”. If you haven’t read these, you may want to look them over. This is another follow-up that I believe is very encouraging. I hope you will agree.

The Kentucky Institute for Aerospace Education has now grown its reach into high schools in The Commonwealth to 23 school districts. Inquiries about how to replicate it’s aviation based STEM curriculum programs beyond the borders of Kentucky has prompted the KIAE Board of Directors to begin offering assistance to school systems in other states. At a recent Board meeting the KIAE became The Institute for Aerospace Education (TIAE) and  began migrating into the neighboring state of Tennessee. Tennessee was selected because it is nearby, has a robust aviation industry and an excellent general aviation airports infrastructure. An active and engaged general aviation airport is a critical part of establishing a successful accredited aviation program in any high school curriculum. The airport serves as an “aviation learning laboratory” to provide flight training, an introduction to aviation maintenance technology, airport management and more. This hands-on approach dramatically improves student learning in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) while, at the same time, creating career pathways into aviation. Students can transition into college and/or career readiness programs.

The Institute for Aerospace Education also has agreements institutions of higher learning that offer aviation and aerospace degree programs allowing students to receive college credit for their studies. This link with colleges, universities and technical schools also connects the students with these institutions for advancing their education.

In June, TIAE CEO Dr. Tim Smith and I began introducing the program to teachers who were attending Tennessee’s Teacher’s Aerospace Education Workshop at Middle Tennessee State University. In July, we spoke to another teacher’s workshop at The University of Tennessee. These extraordinary workshops, now 55 years old, are the oldest program of their type in the nation. During the 2-week “camp” teachers learn how to incorporate aviation into lesson plans to aid the learning process in grades K-12 while earning CE credit. Those who are high school teachers can be perfect potential “facilitators” for the aviation based STEM programs offered through the Institute and I found them to be a great resource for spreading the word about AOPA’s “AV8RS” program.

We are all trying to find ways to increase the pilot population and to attract to aviation careers, the next generation of pilots, aviation maintenance technicians, air traffic controllers, engineers and managers. Aviation is a proven learning catalyst with youngsters and this program is a great way to expose them to a potentially rewarding career. Already we are seeing success: a young man who will graduate from high school with certification as an Aircraft Maintenance Technician, numerous high school age pilots, many of whom are young women. Local airports are involved; flight schools are finding a new source of students right in their own back yard, hangars are becoming classrooms where teens are helping restore and maintain airplanes. I am seeing these kids learning to fly and earning a Private ticket, building model aircraft, welding, turning wrenches, timing ignition systems, and practicing approaches on a flight simulator. They are loving it and I am encouraged about the future of aviation because of it.

There are other outstanding aviation education programs in the Southern Region that are making a huge contribution. The Central Florida Aerospace Academy in Polk County (Lakeland), one of a number of “Polk Academies” providing college and career pathways. Sun n Fun, Inc., earlier this year, committed to year around aviation educational programs and events, headed up by a nationally certified STEM Educator, Lori Bradner. It seems like every day I learn more about youth oriented aviation programs in Florida and flight training in the Sunshine State is experiencing new life and growing.

I find all of this very encouraging. If you know of an aviation education program in the Southern Region, I hope you will share it with us. I want to continue exploring how AOPA can encourage and support these programs.









SouthEast Alaska Panhandle Fly-In features Canadian SAR Team

Last weekend the SouthEast Alaska Aviation Association (SEAKAA) hosted their second annual Panhandle Fly-In.  The two-day event, held at Sitka’s Rocky Gutierrez Airport, included activities for pilots as well as the public, and brought over 600 people to see what happens “behind the fence” at an airport.  Saturday turned out to be a dreary weather day (at least by my interior Alaska standards) that kept pilots from other parts of the the region from flying in, but that didn’t keep the local community from turning out to look at an array of display aircraft and a number of classic cars, courtesy of a local auto club.  Guardian Flight generously provided the use of their hangar to host the event.

A Coast Guard Jayhawk and RCAF Cormorant Helicopter were popular attractions.

A Coast Guard Jayhawk and RCAF Cormorant Helicopter were popular attractions.

A 1937 Chevrolet delivery van was among the vintage cars also on display at the PanHandle Fly-In

A 1937 Chevrolet delivery van was among the vintage cars also on display at the PanHandle Fly-In
Coloring books and an innovative "rocking plane" complete with runway centerline marking and lights kept the youngest set entertained.

Coloring books and an innovative “rocking plane” complete with runway centerline marking and runway lights kept the youngest set entertained.

Burgers and hotdogs fueled the participants, as they studied the display aircraft. Inside the hangar Civil Air Patrol opened the doors of their Cessna 172, allowing kids to sit inside, manipulate the controls and get what for many was the first taste of sitting in the pilot’s seat.  Larger aircraft on the ramp were also open for inspection.  Perhaps the aircraft that drew the most attention were the Search and Rescue aircraft provided by the Coast Guard and the Royal Canadian Airforce.  Air Station Sitka provided a Jayhawk helicopter which complemented two aircraft from the Canadian Search and Rescue counterpart from Canadian Forces Base Comax, on Vancouver Island, British Columbia.  The Canadians flew a Cormorant helicopter and de Havilland Buffalo almost 600 miles to take part in the event, and participate in joint exercises with the Coast Guard (more on that later).  On Saturday, the public was welcome to come aboard all three of these aircraft, and visit with flight crews and SAR Techs.  It was a great way to become acquainted with the folks who are will fly out and save our bacon if we have a problem.

Rescue helicopters from a joint training mission made a pass infront of the crowd.

Rescue helicopters from a joint training mission made a pass in front of the crowd.

Sunday brought a welcome commodity to Sitka—sunshine!  Activities begin with a breakfast for SEAKAA members at the airport café, followed by a presentation on survival signaling conducted by the Coast Guard.  Shortly after noon the flying activities got underway, with the start of the second annual flour bombing contest.  As the participants had their pre-flight briefing, community members began to arrive at a viewing area, just outside the fence at the airport. A few miles to the east, we watched the Buffalo and the rescue helicopters orbit in a joint training exercise where Coast Guard crew members got to ride with and observe the Canadian procedures, and visa-versa.

The RCAF Buffalo was a serious contender in the flourbombing contest.

The RCAF Buffalo was a serious contender in the flour bombing contest.

Each flour bombing crew got two tries to hit the target, an orange basket just off the edge of the taxiway.  The first few attempts were a little wide, but slowly they begin to find their range.  About that time, the Buffalo landed, and picked up their flour bombs…  Just watching the big STOL transport aircraft land, with a decidedly nose-down attitude on short final, is enough to get your attention.  Having it pass in front of the crowd at a few hundred feet above ground to deploy an 8 oz flour bomb is just plane exciting!  At that point in the contest, the Canadian bombs were closest to the target, but that must have challenged the civilian entrants to new heights, who in the final runs of the day edged the Canadians out of the top positions.  In a show of good will and appreciation coming to the event, the Canadian team was awarded a much appreciated prize—a keg of locally brewed Sitka beer from the Baranof Island Brewing Company.

A jubilant team from Comox, BC accepts their prize.

A jubilant RCAF team from Comox, BC accepts their prize.

Following the contest, several local volunteers fired up their aircraft, and provided short flights to members of the public for a small donation, which gave a number of Sitka residents a chance to see their community from the air.  The smiles and comments from the passengers, young and old, as they left the airport made it clear that they enjoyed the chance to experience a ride in a general aviation aircraft.

Events like these take a lot of work to plan, execute and clean up after.  My hat is off to SEAKAA for undertaking this effort.  President Bill Lantz and Treasurer Jeannie Frank are but two of the team that devoted their time and talents to make this event a success.  The Civil Air Patrol Cadets and their leaders provided a lot of the people-power during the Fly-In, and a long list of sponsors donated hangar space, door prizes, display aircraft and much more.  The exposure to aviation that these events allow goes a long way to put a face on what some members of the public see as a “just a noisy airplane.”  The expression on the faces of the youngsters as they sat in the pilot seat of the Buffalo or the helicopters suggests that we are looking at the pilots of the future.

It doesn't take much imagination to tell that this young man is ready to fly!

It doesn’t take much imagination to tell that this young man is ready to fly!

Think about what you can do to help organizations like SEAKAA, or a group in your area, to share the joy of aviation with the members of your community.  As security procedures make it harder to get on an airport or close to an airplane, the importance of these events increases.  AOPA has a guide on how to organize an airport open house, which helps get started.  We need to help ourselves by inviting the public to have a glimpse of the world that we so proudly enjoy!