Alaska Directory of Youth Aviation Education Programs

Youth participating in an airport "traffic pattern" event, under ATC supervision.

Youth participating in an airport “traffic pattern” activity, under ATC supervision.

Do you know a kid who is interested in aviation?  Whether it’s one of your own, a neighbor or someone you met along the way—knowing the programs that are available in your community might help the next generation of pilots, mechanics, air traffic controller or airport managers get their start.  With that in mind, AOPA in Alaska has started a directory of pre-college aviation programs to help connect kids with different aspects of aviation.  They range from classes in middle or high schools, to “build a plane” projects, to a tour program at the Alaska Aviation Museum at Lake Hood.  The Civil Air Patrol has cadet programs in a dozen communities across the state, which are all listed, including a person to contact and the day and time they meet.  Two schools have actual pilot training programs, where a student could end up with a private pilot’s license!

Start something new
I hope this listing of programs will encourage educators or interested parent who might be thinking about starting a ground-school class in their high school, or an after-school aviation club to take that first step. Using the directory, they can find out who is already engaged a similar activity and contact them for ideas on how to get started.

Be proactive!  As an individual, or as part of a local aviation group, find out what youth programs are active in your area, and offer to help. Consider providing (or being) a guest speaker, setting up a Young Eagles flight event, or organizing a visit to an aviation facility.  If someone has an airplane they want to donate for a build-a-plane project, look for a youth group interested in participating.

AV8RS icon path-coverAlso listed in the directory are some of the resources that AOPA has to offer, such as the free-online AV8RS Program for young people aged 13-18.  Teachers may be interested in the PATH Handbook—Pilots and Teachers Handbook—that helps integrate math, science, physics, history and technology using general aviation examples.

The inspiration for starting this project came from my counterpart Yasmina Platt, AOPA Regional Manager for the Central Southwest Region, who developed a similar directory covering the nine states she serves.  If you would like to see what kinds of middle and high school programs are available in her part of the country (New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska and Iowa), have a look: http://blog.aopa.org/vfr/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/Listing-of-Pre-College-Aviation-Programs.pdf.  There may be ideas worth borrowing.  Each program’s website is included, as well as a personal contact.  Kudos to Yasmina for assembling this document, which prompted me to do a similar thing for Alaska.

This is just the start of this directory. I hope to find other programs that are not yet listed.  If you know of a youth program not included in the directory, just let me know. Please include contact information so I can invite them to participate. Or forward a copy to someone involved in the program, and invite them to contact me directly.  Over the months and years ahead, I hope to see a lot more entries added to the list!

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!