Or maybe you’ve never been behind the scenes at an international airport. Or don’t know what biomimicry* is. Or are interested in falconry. Or want to participate in team competitions that involve problem solving.
This diverse set of activities and events are all a part of the 15-year-old Dayton Air Camp, an eye-opening experience that takes aviation beyond the basics and shows participants—from elementary school children, middle schoolers, high schoolers, and teachers to—new this year—their parents and grandparents. The Dayton Air Camp takes place each summer for multiple weeks in Dayton, Ohio, the “Birthplace of Aviation” where Wilbur and Orville Wright launched their dreams into the sky (see “Preflight: Road Trip,” p. 16).
There are five programs. For the youngest aviation-interested (or curious) participant there are two day camps for fourth to sixth graders, which focus on the history and evolution of flight; for middle schoolers in grades seven through nine there are camps that offer a deeper dive into the physics of flight; for high schoolers in grades 10 through 12 there are both day and overnight camps that offer an opportunity for immersive concentration into aviation career possibilities; and for teachers of science, technology, engineering, and math curricula across the country there are both day and overnight camps that help educators deliver the message of the possibilities in aviation. Every participant has the opportunity to fly a general aviation airplane with an instructor.
“I never thought I would get to do something like this... I got to FLY!”—Charlotte CantkierAt MacAir Aviation Services, the FBO at Greene County-Lewis A. Jackson Airport (I19) in Xenia, Ohio, manager David Gracia-Rodriguez volunteers his instructors and aircraft for the flying portion of the camps. “It’s great to see the smiles; when they get out of the airplane and say, ‘I did it!’” he says. “The little kids are always very excited and it’s usually their first time in an airplane. But for the teachers it’s a different perspective. They’ve usually been in an airplane but not a small plane. They are usually not familiar with general aviation. And when they learn they get to be in control, they are apprehensive but excited. It’s interesting to see both, but the end result is the same—big smiles.”
Dayton community leaders have always recognized the significance of their hometown, and how it contributes to the history and future of the country. Under the leadership of Vince Russo, a retired senior executive at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, a group convened in 2006 to consider using the city’s many aviation and historic sites to add to STEM education. In 2008 the group expanded to include Wright family member Amanda Wright Lane and other Dayton aviation luminaries, and a decision was made to “do something” using current Dayton community assets, but not pursue a dedicated physical facility. The first day camp was offered in 2010, and the first teachers camp was launched in 2015. The camps make use of all the aviation-related sites in the area.
Charlotte Cantkier, an eighth-grade science teacher from Arlington, Tennessee, was one of the first to take her introductory flight at Greene County airport. Willing to try, although admittedly afraid of heights, Cantkier was ecstatic after her flight. “It was amazing, awesome. Very freeing,” she said. “I never thought I would get to do something like this. I will tell my students that doing the math, even if you don’t like it, will allow you to experience something like this. I think I will definitely pursue some more instruction.”
Courses, classes, and events take place throughout Dayton. There’s a drone flying facility at Sinclair Community College, the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force offers its facilities as does the University of Dayton, and Dayton International Airport and Greene County Airport volunteer their facilities, offices, technology, and aircraft.
A full-time staff is led by director of operations Shannon Coblentz, a former teacher, as well as a well-seasoned cadre of volunteers who come from the U.S. Air Force, the base, and the historic sector. “Air Camp builds confidence, builds competence that both the students and teachers didn’t know they had,” says Coblentz.
The application for the day camps opens February 15 and it is a first-come, first-serve acceptance. Approximately 330 students are accepted. For the overnight and full-immersion camps and the camp for teachers there is an application process, which involves an essay. That enrollment period is from February 15 through April 15. Most camps are held in July and August. Two-day elementary camps are $250; three-day camps are $375. Middle school overnight camp is $1,275. The five-day, six-night overnight camp for high schoolers is $1,195; students are housed in the University of Dayton dormitories. The Teachers Air Camp program is partially funded by individual, organizational, and corporate donors.
*Biomimicry is the science of applying nature to solve human design problems (I didn’t know either). —JSW