By CAROL LEE ANDERSON
What started with a casual conversation between friends during a coffee break has blossomed into a popular youth-based aviation organization called the Aviation & Aerospace Education Center at Winnipesaukee, also known as WinnAero.
“A group of us were talking over coffee about the low ranking of our country’s youth in the STEM subjects, which are science, technology, engineering, and math. This does not bode well for the future of America, and we decided to do something about it,” said Bill Seed, founder and president of WinnAero. He is a retired attorney and also a long-time general aviation pilot.
Seed found a tremendous amount of interest for the idea of a youth-based aviation organization at Laconia Municipal Airport in Gilford, N.H. Airport Manager Diane Terrill immediately offered her support for the newly-formed non-profit group. She herself is a current board member.
The Laconia Airport Authority, governing organization of the airport, has been just as supportive of WinnAero. Terrill and the airport authority take the responsibility of educating the public very seriously and that includes providing information and encouragement to children of all ages who wish to pursue their dreams of a career in aviation or aerospace.
It has only taken two short years for the organization to grow from being just an idea into one that offers the popular “ACE Academy,” an activity-filled summer program offered to New Hampshire students in grades 3 through 12. An Advanced ACE Academy is also offered to students in grades 10 through 12.
While working within a fully hands-on environment, these potential young aviators, engineers, scientists, and perhaps even astronauts, experience a full array of classes and workshops geared toward giving them a strong understanding and increased knowledge of the fields of aviation and aerospace.
Students work with instructors who are certified teachers with vast experience teaching STEM subjects. Additional instructors are, by virtue of their professional experience, subject matter experts. Together they offer a perfect blend of all pertinent subjects. Educators involved with WinnAero include: Dan Caron, a technology and engineering teacher at Bedford High School; Christine Landry, a technology education teacher at Woodbury Middle School in Salem; Robert Rotier, an engineering and physics teacher at Souhegan High School in Amherst; Kathy Moaratty, a certified counselor and doctoral candidate in educational leadership; and Bob McCulla, lead flight instructor and a retired airline captain.
Each summer, more teachers become involved with WinnAero, allowing the organization to offer an ever-expanding list of classes, activities, and field trips. ACE Academy kids enjoy classes such as model rocketry, meteorology, and aircraft maintenance; numerous field trips to commercial airports, ATC towers, and science centers; and even a flight in a Blackhawk helicopter. Advanced ACE Academy students experienced a New Hampshire Air National Guard refueling flight as part of their curriculum.
Raising funds for the organization’s programs is a continual task for WinnAero’s board members. In January of this year, they raffled off a Cessna 172G Skyhawk, a fundraiser that received widespread support from FBOs and pilots nationwide. More than 1,700 tickets were sold in 49 states, the District of Columbia, Canada, and the United Kingdom. After paying all expenses, WinnAero realized several thousand dollars, which will accelerate development of the organization’s programming. WinnAero board members are planning another plane raffle for this year.
Future plans include the addition of more classes for its growing number of students, as well as building partnerships with other organizations, educational agencies, and corporations in order to promote STEM initiatives involving youth in aviation. Board members are hoping to secure funding for the eventual lease or purchase of a hangar at Laconia Airport, which will serve as headquarters for the organization.
Some of the non-profit’s original plans have not been forgotten. Its “Dreams of Flight” and “Build a Plane” exhibits are being researched, as is the addition of space for the meetings and drills of the local chapter of the Civil Air Patrol, as well as an operational weather station that will aid in the teaching of meteorology, and computerized flight simulators.
WinnAero makes energizing kids in aviation look easy. But it is the continual hard work of those involved that has helped this organization grow in leaps and bounds. Their dedication to youth in aviation and aerospace is making a significant impact on more and more of New Hampshire’s children each year. They are doing exactly what they set out to do — to make a difference.
For more information: WinnAero.org