Hands-on aviation camp spurs new company

For the 11th year students attending the “Cleared For Take-Off” Aviation Education Camp at Alexandria Airport in Pittstown, N.J., spent a week in a “living laboratory” getting hands on lessons in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM).

The camp’s proven curriculum is now one of the offerings of a new company, Take Flight Solutions.

According to organizers, the camp uses leadership theory and practice as a foundation, and the airport and elements of flight as the specific teaching tools and laboratory. While the 11 campers, ranging in age from 10 to 14, learned a great deal about aerodynamics, weather, communications, and flight dynamics, they also learned about themselves and working with others.

“It’s about how kids learn to be curious and inquisitive about the world around them and the people around them, and we do that through something that is magical — learning to fly,” Camp Director Linda Castner said.

Most of the camp is spent doing hands on experiments and building model airplanes, rockets, and tissue paper parachutes. Camper Mike Mia couldn’t pick just one thing about the camp as being his favorite.

“I like everything that goes on,” he said. “It’s fun and learning.” One of the things he learned during a visit to the maintenance hangar on the field was the difference between corrosion and rust. He also enjoyed making a “Fizzy Flyer” rocket powered by Alka Seltzer and water. “I had never made one of those rockets, which were really cool.”

The camp instructors are high school and college students with an interest in aviation, and often started as campers, than assistants before becoming instructors. John Weigele, who will be attending Kean University in the fall, instructed for the third year. He earned his private pilot’s certificate in 2011 at Alexandria Field.

“Linda knew how passionate I was about this and thought I’d be a good candidate to teach to kids and explain complex information,” he said. “It’s cool to get younger kids involved. Sharing the knowledge, that’s the biggest thing for me.”

Castner, co-owner/operator of Alexandria Field, also is one of the principals of Take Flight Solutions, “a company that fosters a lifetime of peak performance in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) and other fields through aviation-themed experiences, tested techniques, and targeted programs designed to empower children, students, teachers, and business professionals,” according to company officials.

The camp is part of a tested public/private partnership model available through TFS for other airports that are interested in broadening their connection to the local schools and the community.

Many of the campers expressed interest in continuing the aviation-related activities year year round. One TFS program that does that is the Central Jersey Aviation Education Science Club. With participants from local elementary and high schools, the club is led by Delaware Valley High School science teacher Jim Gessner and Castner and is open to any student interested in Science, Technology, Engineering, or Math. The club features trips to local businesses so students can get a first hand look at how these subjects are used outside the classroom. The club has made trips to MAN Diesel & Turbo North American facility in Woodbridge, N.J., and BASF Flight Department at Morristown Municipal Airport.

The club is funded in part by a new Hyundai Sonata Hybrid Courtesy Car provided by Muller Hyundai of Stewartsville, N.J. Pilots may reserve the car and receive an “Adventure Package” of coupons to local businesses. In return, pilots are asked to make a donation to the club to help fund future field trips and activities.

For more information: TakeFlightSolutions.org or call 908-735-0870.



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