Sunday, October 1, 2017

Steve Wathen: Youth Aviation Adventure aims to spark interest of future aviators

When Steve Wathen was growing up, airports weren’t surrounded by tall fences, so a kid with an interest in aviation could wander in and talk to pilots and view aircraft.

Now the pilot and aviation enthusiast worries that a lack of access to airports and planes could negatively impact the number of kids who pursue aviation-related careers or hobbies.

That’s one reason he helped launched Youth Aviation Adventure in 1997, a nonprofit organization focused on educating Boy and Girl Scouts and other youngsters about aviation. The program that began in Columbus is now offered at airports around the country.

During a half-day program, students ages 12 to 18 visit 10 stations learning different facets of aviation, ranging from airport operations and preflight checks to aerodynamics and instrument panels.

“We try to make it really interesting,” he says. “You’re not sitting in a classroom. It’s hands-on.”

Q: How did Youth Aviation Adventure come to be?

A: My best flying buddy, Dan Kiser, and I wanted to help some kids from our local Boy Scout troop earn their aviation merit badge. We had seven kids in that first group. Dan and I enjoyed it so much that we decided to do it every six months and continually invited more young people, both boys and girls. We loved the positive reaction from them and saw the spark it lit in so many that had never been that close to an airplane.

Q: What have you done to make sure the program appeals to young people?

A: As the program grew in popularity, we recognized that we were not qualified to conduct a high-quality, engaging educational program without some professional help. The Ohio State University College of Education eagerly came alongside to help us, which has resulted in the first-class curriculum we have today. It’s very hands-on, divided into 10 relatively short segments, yet conveys a wealth of information on flying, aviation careers and airplanes. The kids seem to love it.

Q: What options are available to a child who participates in the program and wants to learn more?

A: Since our program is only one day and is designed as a first introduction to aviation, we have formed collaborations nationally with other organizations that can further feed the passion in the young people that become intrigued through their experience at Youth Aviation Adventure. Among those other organizations are the Aviation Exploring, Civil Air Patrol and the Academy of Model Aeronautics. These are membership organizations that provide ongoing programs for young people enthused about aviation.

Q: What makes the program popular with pilots and others in the aviation industry?

A: In my 40 years of flying, I’ve never met another pilot or aviation professional that was not passionate about the topic. Our organization across the country is 100 percent volunteer, and we have never had a problem attracting enough volunteers to run the organization or the local programs. The aviation industry is behind us, because we are a critical link in ensuring that the U.S. aviation industry remains viable in the future.

Q: Why did you decide to franchise the program by making it easily available to aviation-related entities elsewhere in the country?

A: One Saturday morning, much to our surprise, Dan and I had 477 kids show up for our local program. That caused us to realize that we were satisfying an unmet demand among young people to learn more about aviation. We also realized that there was just as much unmet demand everywhere in the country and that our program could have a profound effect on the young people and the industry if it were available everywhere.

Q: Why is it necessary to have a program focused on introducing youth to aviation careers?

A: Young people are the future of everything, including the aviation industry. Aviation technology and related products are the third-biggest net export in the U.S., and air transportation is a very high-growth industry. Unfortunately, the industry has been graying out for three decades and has reached a crisis. ... There is a chronic shortage of pilots, as well as impending shortages of aeronautical engineers and most other aviation professionals. We don’t want to see our country give up the lead in an industry that we created and have dominated since the Wright brothers.

Q: What do you enjoy most about putting on the programs?

A: I believe all of our volunteers would answer this the same way. It is extremely gratifying to see a young person connect to aviation in the same way we did when we were young.

Steve Wathen

Title: co-founder, Youth Aviation Adventure

Address: 2160 W. Case Road, Suite 104

Mission: Introduce youth to the world of aviation and bolster the ranks of young people learning to fly or choosing aviation-related careers.

Founded: 1997, by Steve Wathen and Dan Kiser

Volunteers: 1,000+ nationally

2016 revenue: approximately $100,000 in contributions


Original article  ➤

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