I awoke to the fact that ours is a three-dimensional world at an early age. My family took a trip to a nearby cornfield in Northeast Indiana that our community called its airport. The crowd craned their necks as two Piper Cubs took off and chased a large weather balloon around the sky. The balloon won as it lazily disappeared into the stratosphere. The fascination with aviation took root when my father took me to Ft. Wayne’s Army Air Base know as Baer Field. Thousands upon thousands of people came out on a cold, blustery day to watch a large flight of gigantic B-29’s descend from the clouds and thunder over our heads just before landing. Eyes as big as saucers might begin to describe my wonder.
Small engines and u-control entered my horizon in my teenage years. As fingers absorbed propeller cuts and many airplanes were “re-kitted,” learning was occurring too. Years passed. There was a tour aboard U. S. S. Midway and a private pilot license found its way into my wallet. But career and family became the priority for decades until retirement from a career in banking brought us to Southern Oregon and a discovery of R/C.
As the hobby set its hook firmly I began attending the Expo in Ontario, CA and had the opportunity to meet Gordon Schimmel and to learn about AMA’s education initiatives. While sitting in one of Gordon’s sessions it occurred to me that in Grants Pass, we had a serendipitous intersection of people and resources that would lend themselves to a major education initiative. This led to a sit-down with the manager of Josephine County Airports and an idea that would pool the resources of our club, the local EAA chapter, the CAP and the facilities of the airport, to host an aviation-focused education program for middle school students. We were pleased to have an opportunity to provide instruction about model aircraft and to do some buddy-box flying. But we also believed that our efforts should reach beyond R/C alone. Our intent was to excite these young people about the entire field of aviation.
After two summers of the Summer Air Academy we are more than pleased with our efforts. Perhaps the best yardsticks of success were the fact that each of our programs were oversubscribed and the number of students who walked in the door on Monday was the same as the number who left us on Friday. No drop-outs; they thoroughly enjoyed it. Our efforts caught the attention of our local community college and the regional STEM coordinator and after many meetings we have agreed to establish a non-profit, the Southern Oregon Air Academy. We will continue to offer the summer camp program, but also reach toward an after-school program to operate year-round.
Our message to parents is that table conversations with their young students should include discussions about aviation as a career target. The newspapers are filled with articles about the projected scarcity of staff in aviation in coming decades. We believe that our program can help produce the next generation of pilots and technicians.
If you have questions or would like more information about my work, feel free to contact me at AFKELLY25@GMAIL.COM