By CAROL LEE ANDERSON
In just over a year, the Aviation & Aerospace Education Center at Winnipesaukee, known as WinnAero, has blossomed from being just one man’s idea into a well-organized and progressive non-profit organization.
Based at Laconia Airport (LCI) on the picturesque shores of Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire, WinnAero is the brainchild of Bill Seed, a retired attorney and self-starter who became entranced with the Iowa Children’s Museum exhibit, “Take Flight,” which spotlights the science of aviation.
Back home in Gilford, N.H., Seed, a businessman and a long-time pilot, was unable to forget that exhibit. He rounded up some of the best educators and most talented pilots in the area and approached Laconia Airport Manager Diane Cooper with an idea. What he had in mind was to not only create an aviation museum at the airport, but offer educational programs and experiences for the area’s youth to foster their interest in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) through aeronautics and aerospace.
Cooper fully supported the idea, as did the Laconia Airport Authority, the governing organization of the airport. She has worked closely with WinnAero, is a director, and actively participates in the organization’s programs and events.
“The Laconia Airport takes its role in the community very seriously,” Cooper explained. “Educating the public about aviation is part of the mission of the airport. We want to educate all age groups about aviation and encourage children who are interested in careers in aviation and aerospace to pursue their dreams.”
The non-profit’s board of directors, besides Cooper and Seed, consists of individuals with impressive resumes, including current and retired teachers, two retired Air Force pilots, and a retired commercial airline captain. This dynamic group has wasted no time in carrying out the mission of the organization.
Last summer WinnAero worked with the FAA to host its first ACE Academy, complete with scholarships for qualified students. The academy was so popular that it will be returning this summer.
Although creating more partnerships remains a goal, Seed’s vision for a children’s aviation-themed museum continues to inch closer to becoming a reality.
An outline for the proposed museum, called Children’s Dreams of Flight Museum, is in place. Plans include using the “Power of Play” to help children learn about aviation, using everything from flight simulators, pedal planes, and a miniature air traffic control tower.
Also planned is the Runway Cafe and the Pilots Supply Depot, a store selling aviation-related toys, crafts, and miscellaneous paraphernalia of interest to young people.
The museum will feature the Air & Space Kids Club, which will provide after school, weekend and vacation camps.
Also in the works is the Take Flight Resource Center for older kids and adults. It will include an information center for career opportunities in aviation, as well as a learning and training center complete with the Flight Deck Hall, a 5,500-square-foot multi-purpose function area designed as classroom and meeting space for seminars, aviation and aerospace education programs, movies, as well as indoor flying of remote-controlled aircraft.
The resource center also will serve as headquarters for the local Civil Air Patrol, as well as the local Experimental Aircraft Association chapter, a Build-A-Plane school-based program, and other educational programs in association with local schools.
The center also will have information on flight training, buying an airplane, as well as resources for homebuilders and restorers.
As its first fundraiser, WinnAero is raffling a Cessna Skyhawk. Tickets cost $50 and will be available until Sept. 29, when the lucky winner will be chosen. The winner will also receive $1,200 to use for flight training, fuel, or other expenses.
There is no doubt that WinnAero is on the cutting edge of STEM and aviation education. The organization’s leaders are modest about what they do, however, they are aware that the work being done will contribute to the development of tomorrow’s aviators, mathematicians, engineers and scientists.
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