Let's Go Flying!: Knocking down the airport fence

Young Aviation Adventure welcomes kids

July 1, 2009

When Dan Kiser and Steve Wathen were kids, they had access to airports and airplanes. “Now, because of cost and post-9/11 security, aviation is a rarefied and highly secured environment that kids don’t think they have access to or can actually do something with themselves,” said Wathen.

Together, Kiser and Wathen have watched the precipitous decline of their beloved avocation, and wanted to do something about it.

This inspired Youth Aviation Adventure, through which the pair have knocked down the airport fence to bring kids, ages 12 to 18, across by the hundreds to actually experience, touch, and learn about airplanes. Real pilots and aviation professionals make sure the kids leave knowing that aviation is there for them, and that they can actually fly if they choose.

YAA was founded in Columbus, Ohio, in 1997 by Kiser and Wathen when they helped Wathen’s son and some other Boy Scouts from his son’s troop earn their aviation merit badges. The pair enjoyed this first experience and started putting on the program twice a year, inviting other local troops to participate. Later, they began recruiting Girl Scouts and youth from other organizations.

“As soon as we met, we connected on our common love of flying, and started flying together a lot,” Wathen said about Kiser. “We still spend a lot of time in airplanes together.”

Enamored with airplanes and aviation all of his life, Wathen trained at Ohio State University his freshman year in 1976, and earned his private pilot certificate in 1997. He is instrument rated and uses his Cessna P210 both for pleasure and business as a real estate developer. Kiser also trained at OSU, where he was a flight instructor in the late 1970s. He works as a certified public accountant, and remains a lifetime aviation buff.

YAA, a fully self-supporting 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, has made its mission introducing young people—by rotating through seven to 10 instructional stations during the course of a day—to the exciting world of aviation, unraveling the wonder and mystery of flight in a high-quality, engaging, educational program.

As word of the program spread and attendance grew (to as many as 480 participants to a single program), Kiser and Wathen invited other pilots, aviation enthusiasts, and service organizations to help lead discussions on various topics including aviation careers, police use of helicopters, airport surface operations, airport firefighting equipment, powerplants, and aircraft instruments. Boys and girls also participate in activities that include the building of a hand-held glider and preflighting a general aviation aircraft. Hundreds donate their time and expertise to further develop YAA and conduct its programs.

Wathen is chairman of the 15-member YAA Board of Directors, and Kiser is the executive director. As YAA grows rapidly, they have made it their responsibility to expand and establish new squadrons in cities across the United States. YAA reaches thousands now, but Wathen said he would like to see the program reach 50,000 to hundreds of thousands.

YAA has a modular, inexpensive, repeatable system that can be transplanted and duplicated anywhere. Because of its success, YAA recently signed a memorandum of understanding with the FAA and is now working in partnership to reach more youth across the country.

“This means a lot. The FAA, which has formally endorsed the program, has had a longtime interest in us,” said Wathen. “We are nationally and heavily scrutinized, and we are now a highly supported organization.”

What can you do? Make the first step by visiting the Let’s Go Flying Web site—and share it with a friend or two.

For more information, to organize a YAA event at your home airport, or to support YAA with a donation, visit the Web site.