Putting Kids In The Cockpit… Racine’s Young Aviators Program Celebrates 10 Years of Success!

by Stephen Myers
Young Aviators Cofounder & Chairman
Published in Midwest Flyer – April/May 2017

When I reflect on the experience I had at Young Aviators, some words come immediately to mind: excitement, inspiration and accomplishment. The most important word, however, is gratitude. I am so grateful that I had the enormous privilege of attending this program with other kids of varying ages and aviation skills.”

These words are from a thank you note received from Julia Jones, a student in the Young Aviator class of 2016.

Curriculum. What exactly is the Young Aviators Program all about? It is a five-day summer program that introduces teenaged boys and girls to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math), aviation and actual in-flight instruction. Located at EAA Chapter 838 at Batten International Airport (KRAC) in Racine, Wisconsin, faculty members work to inspire students to “dream big life dreams” and develop the skills needed to make those dreams come true. Faculty members include a retired PhD chemist, a former Imaging Corporation CEO, a recently retired Airbus A330 captain, a retired DC-10 captain, a former corporate chief pilot and a former engineering test pilot. All are unpaid volunteers.

Daily classroom STEM instruction includes aerodynamics, fundamentals of flight, the physics and chemistry of aviation, modern aircraft navigation, aircraft weight and balance, weather causes and effects, meteorology, electrical systems and aircraft engines.

In addition, students train daily in flight simulators and fly every day with professional flight instructors. By the end of the week, even those who are too young to have an automobile driver’s license are completing a variety of basic flight maneuvers and making landings and takeoffs in Cessna 172s. To be sure, flying is a thrilling part of each day, but flying is just the appetizer. STEM is the program’s main course.

A unique feature of the Young Aviators Program is a metal fabrication project. Students – some of whom have never used tools of any sort – start on Monday with a flat piece of aluminum. Using blueprints, they then fabricate and assemble a real Sonex Aircraft (sonexaircraft.com) wing leading edge component by week’s end. A retired high school shop teacher, who is also a pilot and licensed aircraft mechanic, leads this workshop. Two more volunteers are there to help students navigate smoothly through the fabrication and assembly process. Many students recall that building this real aircraft part is one of the favorite memories of their Young Aviators experience.

Getting Started/Fundraising. So, just how did the Young Aviators Program get started? One day back in 2007, friends and fellow pilots Scott Sellers and Steve Myers were chatting over a cup of coffee. They were noting the disappointing drop of licensed pilots in the United States and the diminishing number of young men and women becoming pilots. They were also concerned about the disturbing reduction of American students pursuing science degrees and technical careers. Additionally, Sellers was looking for a STEM/Aviation summer program for his teenage son, Dan, similar to one that he experienced as a teenager.

Then and there they decided to do something – even if it would be just a small local effort – to get more kids interested in airplanes, flying and things technical. They sketched out a draft program for the first year. The “proof of concept” plan included four students, a basic classroom curriculum, one flight simulator, one flight instructor, one training airplane and six volunteers.

Bottom line: It worked. Quite well, in fact. The kids loved it. So did the staff. With that they were on their way to developing the successful Young Aviators Program that will turn 10 years old this coming August.

Fundraising. Young Aviators Inc. is a 501-(c)-(3) non-profit corporation. Its staff members work year-round on their toughest job, raising money! Funds are raised through tax-deductible donations from friends, businesses, corporations and foundations. The tuition is only $795.00 to encourage families to participate. Scholarships are available when needed. In fact, all students really receive scholarship assistance due to the high overall cost of providing two flight simulators, leasing three training aircraft, paying professional flight and simulator instructors, buying aviation fuel, renting the EAA Chapter 838 facility and paying a variety of insurance fees.

Local/Regional/National Students Attend. What started as a program aimed at students living in southeastern Wisconsin has grown, a bit mysteriously, to include applicants from “far away” places. Potential students, often with help from parents, find the Young Aviators website online. Previous attendees, including those from the Racine area, have come from southern California, up-state New York, Tennessee, northern Wisconsin and Illinois. The 2016 class included two students from Minnesota, two from Illinois, and one from Michigan. Applications for 2017 already include students from Massachusetts and Indiana. Sometimes an entire family will come and vacation in Racine, while a son or daughter attends the program.

Not surprising, most Young Aviators students go on to college. A number have graduated with engineering degrees. Dan Sellers, son of Scott, graduated with a Mechanical Engineering Degree from the University of Minnesota in December 2016. Days later, another former Young Aviator, Austin Behrens, graduated from St. Cloud State University with a Business Degree, plus a Private Pilot Certificate and an instrument rating. He has now accepted a position with IBM. And another, Aaron Gehne, a graduate of the University of Wisconsin Parkside, is a commissioned U.S. Army officer now completing military flight training.

Feedback. Feedback received from students and their families reveals that the Young Aviators Program continues to be both successful and inspirational. The following is a note from the father of a recent graduate:

“My son earned the money to pay the Young Aviators tuition fee. Driving home after the graduation dinner, I asked him if the program was worth all the work it took for him to attend. He said Young Aviators went way beyond his expectations. Never did he imagine the amount of individualized and professional training he would receive. Our combined feeling is this: Rarely do things meet our expectations. And more rarely do they far exceed them in the way your program does. Thank you for giving my son such a wonderful opportunity.”

Class of 2017 Student Applications. 2017 program dates are Monday, August 7 thru Friday, August, 11. Applications are due no later than May 15 for the 12 available class positions. For an application form, general information, or to make a tax exempt donation, go to www.young-aviators.com or call (262) 515-9838. Visitors are always welcome. Fly in or drive in. Come by and see for yourself what all they do.

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