How do you get children interested in aviation? You make it fun.
Given that premise, a new crop of aviators should be coming out of Iowa in a few years thanks to a new exhibit at the Iowa Children’s Museum in Iowa City.
The Take Flight exhibit opened Sept. 23 to rave reviews from hundreds of future pilots, said Deb Dunkhase, executive director of the museum.
Local pilots, including Jay Honeck, owner of the Alexis Park Inn, an aviation-themed hotel at the Iowa City Airport (IOW), were instrumental in creating the exhibit.
According to Honeck, the effort began as an offshoot of an airport open house, dubbed the “Big Kids Toy Show.” Proceeds from that event went towards creating the exhibit, “in hopes of sparking an interest in aviation in kids.”
The Iowa Children’s Museum was selected as the beneficiary, but museum officials were lukewarm to the idea, according to Honeck.
“Only after my mechanic and friend, Keith Roof, and I built the first prototype flight simulator — dubbed “The Kiwi” — and we invited the museum folks out to ‘fly’ it, did their enthusiasm for the project really soar,” he said. “Once they saw what could be done for relatively little money — and they realized how teenagers absolutely loved it — Deb Dunkhase really took the ball and ran with it.”
Dunkhase credits the enthusiasm of the local aviation community for pushing the concept forward.
“Their goal was to promote aviation to the public through our 125,000 annual guests,” she said. “This group raised about $8,000 for us to fabricate the simulator and the museum liked the idea, but wanted to do more research regarding the educational opportunities connected to aviation concepts.”
A team made up of pilots, educators, astrophysicists from the University of Iowa, educators, plus members of local aviation groups such as the EAA, the Ninety-nines and a radio-controlled airplane club joined with museum staff to design the exhibit, which occupies about 5,500 square feet on two levels of the museum.
Highlights of the exhibit include flight simulators, a hot air balloon, a Cessna 150 on static display, and an air traffic control tower with a 14-foot slide going down to the first floor. Activities include flying the simulators, aircraft and rocket design and launch, and a parachute demonstration that involves dropping pigs in parachutes from the second floor using a pulley system.
While local pilots provided seed money for the exhibit, the museum also received grants, including $2,000 from the Wolf Aviation Fund, $99,000 from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, $90,000 from Rockwell Collins, and $842,942 from NASA, according to Dunkhase.
“All of the grant funds are restricted to the Take Flight exhibit and cannot be used for museum general operational needs,” she said. “We created a five-year budget to support the exhibit that amounted to just over $1 million. This allowed for the significant technology needs of the exhibit, as well as increased museum staffing.”
For more information: TheICM.org.