For many children, their first taste of the world outside of school and family comes through a scouting program.
Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts programs are designed to show children different career options and help them develop life skills. Aviation is one of the areas scouts explore. Often this starts with a troop visit to an aviation museum, an air show or even a visit from someone in the aviation industry. These activities are often part of the pursuit of a merit badge.
The Boy Scouts of America have one of the more comprehensive approaches to aviation. It begins with the 96-page Aviation Merit Badge pamphlet. (Pamphlets are available from local scout headquarters or can be downloaded at MeritBadge.com.) The pamphlet has information on several of the topics covered in private pilot ground school, such as how instruments work and how to plot a course. There’s also information on model airplane building and arranging tours at local airports. It includes a list of activities a scout must do to earn the badge, such as taking a flight in a small airplane, studying aerodynamics and learning about a variety of careers from pilot to air traffic controller.
Scouts in pursuit of the aviation badge often call upon the Experimental Aircraft Association for assistance. Those scouts lucky enough to live near Oshkosh have the resources of the EAA Museum at their fingertips. Scouts outside Oshkosh can email EAA and get hooked up with a chapter in their part of the world.
“The EAA has been working with the scouts informally as long as we have been involved in youth education,” noted Steve Buss, Young Eagles executive director. “That has really stepped up in the last 10 years. We have formed lines of communication between our members and the scouts. The chapters often want to do more with kids and have lots of volunteers who have the resources to help the kids explore aviation.”
Buss notes that most EAA chapters are more than happy to invite kids for a visit or allow them to help with the restoration or construction of an aircraft. Young Eagles flights, the program that allows children between the ages of 8 and 17 to take a short flight in a small airplane, remains the most popular activity, says Buss. EAA members volunteer their airplanes, fuel and time for these flights.
“There are also EAA chapters that want to take scouting to the next level by starting an Explorers Post,” Buss continued. “They are targeting those kids who already have the aviation spark. It’s a great way to build future aviators.”
Explorer Posts, for kids between the ages of 14 and 20, are sponsored by local businesses or groups. Sporty’s Pilot Shop has sponsored an Aviation Explorer Post through Cincinnati Aviation, an FBO that works closely with pilot shop, since the 1990s.
“It’s been a great way to find new employees,” says Mark Wiesenhahn, Sporty’s vice president and an advisor for Aviation Explorer Post 78. “We watch these kids grow up, in a sense. A few of them have come to work for us.”
The post averages about 15 active members at any one time. They meet twice a week during the school year and have one Saturday activity a month.
“That activity can be anything from a tour to a model rocket launch,” Wiesenhahn says. “Other activities include mini ground schools and speakers forums where they meet industry leaders and career models.”
Some of the kids are allowed to join the Sporty’s team for the annual trek to EAA AirVenture in the summer. The kids earn their keep.
“They camp at Oshkosh and are part of a group of typically 150 Explorers from around the country,” he explains. “They help with the marshaling of airplanes. Our post typically sends four to eight kids. That is the big event for our post. They have to meet certain meeting attendance requirements to be eligible. That is the carrot at the end of the stick.”
The Girl Scouts of America have a variety of aviation opportunities. Programs vary from place to place and age level with an emphasis on showing girls career options involving technology.
In 2002, for example, the Girl Scout Council of Greater New York launched the Women with Wings program.
“From 2002 to 2004 we offered a Junior, Cadet and Senior aerospace education curriculum put together by a Civil Air Patrol pilot and long-time Girl Scout volunteer trainer, Jacqui Sturgess,” says Jennifer Rumbach, communications manager. “We also offered troops a Flight Kit program during these two years, which was sponsored by Brooklyn Aviation, NASA, the Civil Air Patrol, the United States Navy, the United States Air Force and the National Aviation Museum.”
According to Rumbach, Junior and Cadet Scouts participating in the program had the opportunity to take a simulated flight lesson. Older scouts were given a chance to do the real thing to show them how the technology and math and science are applied.
“One key initiative for Girl Scouts is to support young women in math and science,” she says. “Studies show that fewer women than men choose occupations in the realms of technology, math and science. Although boys and girls show equal amounts of interest in these subjects when they’re young, many girls start to lose interest in math and science in middle school years. Engaging girls in science at an early age is critical to helping them reach their full potential.”
There are opportunities for people who would like to help scouts discover aviation. “We are always open to volunteers who would like to speak at one-day events or career days,” said Rumbach. “Speakers share their stories about what inspired them to enter the field of aviation, how they pursued their training, and what steps young Girl Scouts can take to pursue their interest in aviation. Volunteers can also assist the program department in creating new curriculums or further developing existing programs. They are a wonderful resource for new ideas and advice.”