|The Air Force Academy both in the Education and Interactive Zone. (photo by Phil Weston)
By Barbara A. Schmitz
July 29, 2013 - A handful of planes and fewer than 150 people, mainly adults, attended EAA's first gathering of aviation enthusiasts in September 1953 at what is now Timmerman Field in Milwaukee.
Throughout the decades, the EAA convention and fly-in has transformed into something that is literally for everyone. But with the age of pilots inching up - the average age was 48.3 in 2012 according to the GAMA databook - more emphasis has been put on introducing children, teens, and young adults to the opportunities and excitement that aviation can present. EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2013 is no exception.
KidVenture began in 1999 out of a need for things that families could do at the fly-in and convention, explains KidVenture Chairman Dan Majka.
It first targeted youth ages 10-14, but soon expanded to include ages 5-17. It also doubled in size and number of booths.
Today, KidVenture, located on Pioneer Airport across from the AirVenture Museum, allows youth to receive loggable flight instruction on a simulator, earn FAA credit toward an A&P certificate through hands-on building projects, learn how to fly a radio-controlled airplane, modify a wing on a computer then find out how well it flies, see what it's like to land on Mars, and much more.
KidVenture not only gets children's imaginations soaring, Majka says, but also helps youth gain pride and confidence in their abilities.
It's an area where kids are encouraged to touch. However, they occasionally get parents who want to do the project themselves.
"But I remind them that there are adult forums for that," Majka says. "This is just for the kids.
"For families, it's become the destination they go to first, and then they go to the show," Majka says. "In the past, I've had people tell me they've been at the show for 2 1/2 days and that they still haven't been to the flightline because their kid won't let them leave KidVenture."
Education & Interactive Zone featuring College Park
It's a one-stop shopping spot.
The new Education & Interactive Zone provides a place for high school and college students to network with prospective colleges and employers in a relaxed setting.
"The pilot population is aging, and this is a great way to encourage youth to get into the aviation field," says Ann Gentz, College Park chairwoman. "For those who don't know how to do it or what is out there, it's a great place to start."
Sponsored by American Airlines, the area includes representatives from colleges and industry leaders, Gentz says. While certain areas are only open to students, other areas are open to anyone looking to learn.
Located just west and a little north of Waukau Avenue and Knapp Street, the area includes daily forum presentations from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. where speakers tell their story of how they got into aviation, Gentz says.
In addition, visitors can enjoy interactive exhibits including flight simulators or video games like World of Warplanes, a job fair, college mixer, and more.
"The job fair includes industries that are looking to hire," she says. "There are so many qualified people who come to AirVenture, so this is a perfect fit. But the job fair also provides an opportunity for young people to see what qualifications they will need once they graduate."
Gentz says the area will become an AirVenture staple, and likely expand.
"I'm a mother of four children, but if one of my kids was passionate about aviation, this is the place I would be going," she says. "It's a win-win for kids and adults wanting to know what's out there for colleges or companies."
Central Florida Aerospace Academy
Current students and graduates of the Central Florida Aerospace Academy in Lakeland, Florida, are at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh to spread the word about aviation and inspire other students.
Lori Bradner, executive director of education, says the students are volunteering at KidVenture, working at the Sun 'n Fun booth, and visiting aviation exhibits.
Billed as the future of aviation offered through Sun 'n Fun, CFAA is a workforce academy of Polk County schools that believes in a brighter future through aviation, Bradner says.
"We serve as a ground floor STEM resource for public and private schools and universities," she says. "There is no better way to teach STEM subjects than through airplanes."
CFAA provides curriculum for teachers, and brings in hands-on activities for the students. Since beginning in November 2012, the academy has reached more than 11,000 students, 800 teachers, and 52 schools, Bradner says. They have also reached 168 students and eight teachers in Trinidad, and have had calls from five other countries to provide STEM assistance.
Alejandro Aybar-Mota, 18 and a CFAA graduate, says the academy gave him a jump-start on his career, and that is what he hopes to help others do here. "We're here to educate others and really get them interested in aviation and what that is all about."
Women Soar You Soar
In its 10th year, Women Soar You Soar will introduce 75 girls in grades 9 through 12 to 21 female mentors working in a variety of aviation and aerospace fields.
"The main purpose of the program is to empower the girls and to educate them about what is available in the aviation field," says Debby Rihn-Harvey, an aerobatic pilot who is the chairwoman of Women Soar. "It helps to build their confidence, and empowers them...
"We mentor, encourage, and educate the girls, while they make new friends and get excited about aviation," Rihn-Harvey adds. "We really stress that they can do everything they want to do, and that 'can't' shouldn't be in their vocabulary."
The program also includes a variety of activities, including flight simulation, workshops, mentor sessions, career exploration, and a chance to hear from top women in the field, such as retired astronaut Linda Godwin, Thunderbird pilot Caroline Jensen, NASA engineer Nagin Cox who will talk about her role in the Mars Curiosity rover mission, and others.
The program, which runs from Thursday through Sunday, also provides scholarships to help girls achieve their goals, Rihn-Harvey says.
EAA Air Academy
The EAA Air Academy is celebrating 30 years of aviation camps in 2013. But those who have graduated from the program often say they still celebrate the friendships they formed there.
"Aviation may have brought these kids together, but it wasn't just aviation that holds them together," says Scott Cameron, Air Academy camp supervisor.
EAA currently offers eight camps each summer for youth ages 12 to 18, he says. That's quite a change from when they started; then they offered only one 21-day camp.
All the camps offer hands-on activities in workshops and classrooms and include a flight. Each camp builds up on skills where the previous camp ended, Cameron says.
More than 5,000 youths have attended Air Academy camps since the program began. Many of the earlier campers have gone on to get jobs in the military, with NASA, and with other groups, Cameron says.
And many of the alumni keep coming back.
Cameron knows the bond that keeps the youth together since he has been with the program since its inception in 1984. In fact, this year they have 16 staff members; more than half of those first came to Oshkosh as campers.
Megan Simoneaux, of Green Valley, Arizona, is one of those. She came to the Air Academy for one year as a student, and has now been working at the camp for 10 years.
"The Air Academy is really more about the community," she explains. "You're here for so many hours with people who you share a common passion. You're just not meeting new people; you're joining a family."