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New Group Seeks to Advance Youth Aviation Programs

By James Wynbrandt

  • YAPA
    Through the assistance of YAPA (Youth Aviation Programs Association) groups of teens from across the nation have been building various kitplanes through different school and chapter programs.

July 23, 2015A growing number of youth programs are nurturing tomorrow’s pilots and aviation enthusiasts, and here at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2015 a new organization, the Youth Aviation Programs Association (YAPA) unveiled a plan to aid and expand these initiatives.

“We’re trying to create a unified front for all youth aviation programs,” said 19-year-old Jamie Helander of Greensboro, North Carolina, YAPA’s director of youth involvement, at a presentation at the Homebuilders Hangar. “It’s going to be a very easy resource for as many people as possible. We want them to collaborate with each other, and to elevate their programs.”

YAPA, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, was formed by Jerry Graf of Wausau, Wisconsin. “It comes down to introducing youth to aviation,” said the retired food services professional (or “pizza guy” as he calls himself) and Young Eagles coordinator for EAA Chapter 444.

The vitality of youth aviation programs is evident right outside the Homebuilders Hanger, where a fleet of RV-12s and a Zenith aircraft built by students in the Eagles Nest Project and other programs are tied down. Molly Willard, a high school student and student pilot from San Antonio, Texas, flew one of the RVs up with one of the program mentors—famed experimental aircraft time-to-climb record holder and air show performer Bruce Bohannon.

Willard was introduced to aviation through her aunt, a captain with United Airlines. Helander “got the bug” for aviation after her uncle took her for a flight in 2011, and then attended an ASCEND (Aviation Summer Camp: Exploring New Dimensions) program sponsored by EAA Chapter 1083 in Salisbury, North Carolina.

Also on the field here this week are students from the Lakeland Aero Club, who flew themselves up in a fleet of vintage aircraft that the students rebuilt entirely by themselves.

YAPA aims to be the point of contact for all these groups, and for youths interested in finding out where they can find such programs. Membership is free, and anyone can join (

Meanwhile, the involvement of Graf and Bohannon points to the importance and need for mentors to help these groups and their young members to grow.





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