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Endless Educational Opportunities at KidVenture
By Katie Holliday-Greenley
July 25, 2017 - In 1999, EAA established KidVenture, an area at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh specifically for kids to learn more about all aspects of aviation through hands-on activities.
“We’re not all here trying to make them a pilot,” said KidVenture Chairman Dan Majka. “But I always say, if you don’t have an airplane mechanic, you’re not gonna fly.”
KidVenture consists of three hangars — Pioneer, Wittman, and Vette — amounting to 22,000 square feet of space filled with activities specifically designed to engage kids ages 6-13.
Dan said the left side of Pioneer Hangar is “the future A&P program,” which consists of 10 booths that teach participants about the mechanical side of aviation. In one booth, kids can learn to rivet by creating their own metal nametags.
“That’s become one of the hottest items on the convention site,” Dan said. “You have to make it. You can’t buy it. The students will make around 1,500 of those during the week. So they’re learning skills that they wouldn’t have the opportunity to do elsewhere because of the specialized equipment. Unless you’ve got a mother or a father who is building an airplane, you’re not gonna have a rivet gun at home.”
KidVenture visitors can also learn how to build a wind-powered generator, how an airfoil affects lift, and the basics of airplane engines. They also show the progression of aviation building materials through wood, metal, and composite structures providing a history lesson alongside practical skills.
“It’s the whole transition, so they can see the spectrum of how it’s evolved over the years,” Dan said.
In the right half of Pioneer Hangar, “pilot’s ground school,” kids can learn how to read a sectional chart, what it’s like to speak to a real air traffic controller, and what goes into a preflight inspection using a blue 1968 Cessna 150, which for many is the first opportunity they have to get close to a real airplane.
“Again, unless your mother or father is flying an airplane, you’re never going to have that opportunity,” Dan said. “It’s all educational in that sense.”
The Wittman and Vette hangars are slightly less structured, and offer activities mostly for the younger children, including balsa wood gliders that kids can color themselves, a cockpit climb area, and a replica Mercury 7 space capsule. Wittman is also where KidVenture visitors can learn to fly control-line and RC aircraft before heading out to the grass strip of Pioneer Airport to fly the real thing.
All the activities at KidVenture are teaching through experience, allowing kids to get more involved in aviation than they would elsewhere — and it all depends on help from volunteers.
“We’re trying to teach them skills that are unique opportunities,” Dan said. “It’s hands-on. It’s not kid stuff, it’s the real thing. I have 450 volunteers,w and they put in about 14,000 volunteer hours, and I couldn’t do anything without them, really.”
KidVenture is meant to create an inviting environment for kids and their parents, regardless of their aviation background.
“There are many people who come in for a day or sometimes two days … that have no exposure to aviation, and this is their first taste of it,” Dan added. “So we try to have a real nice experience for them so they’ll continue on and go for other things. This is a family experience.”