Culpeper County Public School fifth graders had their interest in engineering “take off” Wednesday as they had a special tour of the Culpeper Regional Airport as part of the 2017 Culpeper AirFest.
The program, a partnership between the AirFest and CCPS, introduced students to hands-on learning on subjects they’ve been talking about in classes. Through three hangars, presentations on virtual welding, drone simulations, porous asphalt, coding, robotics, riveting and more greeted the students as they were introduced to all the aspects that impact the airport.
Dan Haug, AirFest Chairman, said the two-day program that incorporated 667 fifth-graders came about because of a presentation he saw at a conference about air shows.
“They talked last year about the importance of introducing education into these air shows,” Haug said. “Part of it is the fact that, to be honest, aviation is on the decline across the country. Those of us that are passionate about it realize we have to get more kids involved in it. I’m also an engineer and I realize we need to get more kids involved in STEM.”
Students eyes lit up as they learned about robotics, coding and drones. Fifth-grader Ryan Burton said he was always interested in airplanes, even if he didn’t realize the airport was essentially in his backyard.
“I’ve really enjoyed everything,” Burton said. “I think I enjoy the engineering the most. When I was little I always enjoyed planes. I loved all sorts of fighter planes and things like that. So being here is really fun for me.”
Students had an opportunity after touring the hangars and the various booths inside to see some of the airplanes that will be on display at the AirFest.
“That’s a key part of us too,” Haug said. “Every kid is getting an AirFest brochure. It’s a community awareness initiative.”
AirFest chairman emeritus Mike Dale said that the STEM program dovetails nicely with another CCPS program offered in high school.
“It’s the beginning of something linking to E-Squared,” Dale said, referencing the popular Career Partners program that is hosted at both Culpeper County High School and Eastern View High School. “The whole darn world knows very well we are short of people who can do things with their hands. STEM programs do that, where ever they are going – whether that’s to be a welder or going to college.”
Introducing students at a young age to STEM and airplanes is key, he said.
“It broadens their horizons at an age where they are really soaking things up,” Dale said. “I wanted to learn to be a pilot since I was 7 years old, and I got ignited by seeing an airplane. I think that’s what we’re doing here.”
Randi Richards-Lutz, Director of Career and Technical Education and Technology, was excited to offer this opportunity to students, many of whom she admitted didn’t know Culpeper had an airport. She said the enthusiasm starts at the top, referencing Superintendent Dr. Tony Brads and his emphasis on STEM. It trickles down to the students, who joyfully bounced between demonstrations and their shouts of joy could be heard from hangar to hangar.
“It starts with the adults, when the teachers and principals heard about this they were excited and the kids felt that,” Richards-Lutz said.
On an education level, it’s important to tie together the concepts the students are taught with actual hands-on learning, said Sue Jenkins, Instructional Specialist Math and Science Specialist Liaison for Culpeper County Public Schools.
“It’s very important because they are able to make the connections to the math, science and technology,” Jenkins said. “They can connect the topics they are learning in class and they can come and see how it’s used in real life at the airport.”
For Ben Sherman, Germanna Community College Business and Career Coordinator, partnering with the schools and the AirFest was a natural alignment. He’s been participating with the drone program at the AirFest for three years and young people always show an interest in the drones.
“We’re just trying to get them into the STEM mode so they can see the difference aspects that airplanes are not just the only thing involved here,” Sherman said. “The engineering aspects of it are just huge.”
Fifth grader Emma Chaney was excited to get out of the classroom and get her hands dirty – learning about asphalt from Chemung Contracting.
“I sifted rocks and separated the dust from the rocks and I watched a 3D printer print,” she said, giggling.
Another popular display was “Project Bearhawk,” a program hosted at the airport and funded through the Altron Foundation. The project is having students ages 15-25 build an airplane from scratch, through plans, with longtime mechanic instructor Tom Hazel.
“I wanted to get a program going where we could invite in others who maybe were going into engineering or some other path other than on the job training,” Hazel said. “The goal is not to grow an airplane mechanic, but to grow skills for youngsters that have an interest in aviation.”
Zachary Chapman, a 2016 CCHS graduate, was teaching students how to use a pneumatic riveter.
“I think it’s pretty important because myself, as a fifth-grader, I liked working with my hands,” Chapman said. “A lot of kids don’t get a lot of experience working with their hands. You find a few kids that want to grow up in the industry. This opens their eyes to the field.”