The Sky is Not the Limit

By Don Childers, EAA 414198

EAA Chapter 1005 of Ada, Oklahoma, was chartered 25 years ago, a conversion of our local pilots association into the EAA family of chapters. We soon realized the average age of our chapter members was maturing, with the average age increasing one year each year. We began working to attract younger pilots and to introduce youths to the joys and benefits of becoming a pilot. We sponsored a paper airplane contest for area students, awarded a partial flight training scholarship through a nomination and essay process, and sponsored several ground school courses through the local technical education center. All these efforts did very little to produce new pilots.

At the urging of Chapter President Bill Bailey, EAA 598186, we began to pursue a concept in which we would outfit an enclosed trailer with a flight simulator that we could take to area schools to present an introduction to aviation. Visits to EAA AirVenture Oshkosh afforded us the opportunity to try out the simulators that were within our budget and witness the excitement of the goings on in the KidVenture area at Pioneer Airport. A major drawback was the realization that we might create a program that we simply could not manage. Through passing, causal conversations with Ada City Schools Superintendent Mike Anderson, we learned of his interest in adding an aviation-related curriculum to the school’s STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) courses.

In October of 2016, Bill, along with chapter member and Ada City Manager Cody Holcomb, EAA 1014047, and myself, scheduled a formal meeting with Mike and Paula Kedy, EAA 1275836, director of academics and instruction, so we could propose our plan, albeit with not much hope of success due to extremely tight school funding in Oklahoma. After about the first few minutes of the meeting we were assured the school was indeed interested in adding aviation to the STEM courses and that they would like our help. The remainder of the meeting was brainstorming how we could facilitate the coursework. Bill and I were tasked to formulate the basics of the course. We agreed to meet again in 30 days. Once again, we feared we had created something we could not manage. After all, we are pilots, not educators.

A short time later, we learned that AOPA was in the beginning stages of developing a very extensive four-year STEM aviation course for high school students. At our next meeting with the school, we offered to pay airfare for Paula and science teacher Andrea Appleman to attend AOPA’s aviation symposium in Seattle, Washington, in December of 2016. Bill and I let out a big sigh of relief that we would not be responsible for developing the coursework.

Paula and Andrea were completely taken with the presentations at Seattle and came back full of ideas on how to implement the courses. They also dubbed the new program The Sky is Not the Limit. Not wanting to wait for the full program to be rolled out, which could take six or more years, Paula and Andrea began working on ideas that could begin immediately. Their desire was to offer aviation awareness studies to students of all grades. An aviation-themed essay contest was offered to upper elementary, junior high, and high school students. Winners were presented with drone aircraft provided by our chapter.

Good things began to happen very quickly. A kick-off meeting was planned for approximately 150 high school students who had expressed an interest in the program. Chapter members joined Mike in presenting the orientation, after which students were bussed to Ada Regional Airport (ADH) for a tour of businesses located on the field including General Aviation Modifications Inc. (GAMI), Tornado Alley Turbo, a medevac service, and the newly opened terminal. Paula found doors were opened quickly for group field trips including at Tinker Air Force Base in Midwest City, Oklahoma, at the University of Oklahoma flight school, at Oklahoma State University flight school, and at Southeastern University flight school. Several students volunteered to help our chapter host EAA’s Ford Tri-Motor last year. All volunteers were rewarded with a ride on the Tri-Motor.

In the spring of 2017, Ada City Schools was selected as one of 29 school districts nationwide to do beta testing of the ninth-grade curriculum. Additionally, Paula was invited to join the AOPA steering committee, which helps direct development of the curriculum. The aviation program was awarded a substantial grant provided by the Oklahoma Aeronautics Commission and another grant from a local foundation. These funds afforded a boost to acquiring the necessities for coursework, including a flight simulator. Students above the ninth-grade level are kept engaged with field trips and an aviation club created for all interested students. The 2018-2019 school year will have the 10th-grade program in place.

In April of this year, our chapter members provided Young Eagles flights for 23 students. One week later, students from Southeastern University in Durant, Oklahoma, arranged a fly-in to meet and network with the Ada students.

Our chapter leaders are in the planning stage for having an upscale fundraising dinner next year that we hope will provide sufficient funds to award as many as 12 flight training scholarships through solo flight to deserving students. It has been exciting and such a pleasure to be a part of this very successful program. We firmly believe what we helped create will have a lasting and profound affect on the lives of several students and that The Sky is Not the Limit.

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