Ohio pilots pitch in to recruit next members of the aviation community

What began in 1997 with two pilots helping Boy Scouts earn their aviation merit badges has grown into Youth Aviation Adventure (YAA), with 26 partner programs across the United States.

It all began when Columbus, Ohio, pilots Dan Kiser and Steve Wathen offered to help Steve’s son and some friends earn their Boy Scout Aviation Merit Badges. They enjoyed sharing their love of aviation with the boys so much, they began recruiting scouts from other nearby troops and offering the program twice a year.

They knew they were on to something when 80 kids showed up to one of their events, said Kiser.

“We realized this was more than two guys could handle, so we recruited more pilots,” he said.

With more pilots on board, the program began to take shape. It’s a fast-paced day with kids rotating among 10 stations, such as aerodynamics, powerplants, aircraft instruments, airport operations, careers in aviation, and preflight. The programs are held on airports, with the chance for kids to get up close with aircraft. Some events partner with a local EAA chapter to offer Young Eagles flights “to give the kids the whole package,” Kiser said.

One of the reasons the program has grown so quickly is that it uses realistic teaching aids, according to Kiser. For example, the preflight, aerodynamics and police helicopter stations use actual aircraft. At the instrumentation station, leaders pass around real aircraft instruments for the kids to handle. The powerplants station uses a cutaway jet engine as a teaching aid. For the airport operations station, which is held in a location that has a view of the entire airport, a handheld radio is variously tuned to ATIS, ground control and the tower so the kids can hear live communications and then see what the planes being communicated with do next.

As the program evolved, Wathen came up with the idea of packaging it up and helping other pilots put it on in other cities. A non-profit was created, a curriculum developed with help from Ohio State University and the men began promoting Youth Aviation Adventures.

One of the first calls they made was to Hal Shevers, founder of Sporty’s and a huge supporter of the Boy Scouts. Sporty’s became YAA’s first partner program and continues to put the program on once a year.

One of the latest to become a partner is the Sports Aviation Foundation in Minden, Nevada, which held its first event in January at the Minden-Tahoe Airport. Other partners include Civil Air Patrol squadrons, Women in Aviation chapters, the National Park Service and “a whole raft of other organizations,” according to Kiser.

YAA officials realize that as the program grows, each partner will want to put its own stamp on it. To be considered a YAA program, however, the partner must offer the eight stations required for the Boy Scout Aviation Merit Badge: Aviation in the Know, a game show style competition; powerplants; airport operations; aerodynamics; aircraft instruments; careers; preflight; and FPG9, which is building a glider from a foam plate.

YAA offers the program to its partners for free, but organizations that do have funds “are expected to pick up the tab,” Kiser said. “If it’s a a little organization, like a Women in Aviation chapter, we’ll finance it for them. But we do ask for donations.”

To get the ball rolling on a program, you just have to contact YAA through its website, YouthAviationAdventure.org. Depending on what kind of resources a group has available, it will take between three and six months to pull together the program, he noted.

While YAA’s program now is geared toward between 50 and 200 kids with several volunteers, officials are in the process of developing a small group program. This would allow one or two people to put on a program for six to 10 kids. “We hope to release that this year,” Kiser said.

For more information: YouthAviationAdventure.org


  1. John Schmidt says

    You got the LINK WRONG!!! ARG!
    It’s “YouthAviationAdventure.org (singular, NOT PLURAL!!!)

    John Schmidt
    651 373 3779 c
    St. Paul, MN

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