By STEVE SCHAPIRO
When Blake Schuette was 10 years old she didn’t know much about aviation or airplanes. Today, the Auburn University junior is a double major in aviation management and business management. She is president of the school’s flight team and is completing her CFI rating — and she owes it all to one week back in the summer of 2001.
That’s when she attended the first “Cleared for Take-Off” Aviation Education Camp at Alexandria Airport (N85) in Pittstown, N.J. This past July, the week-long camp was held for the 11th consecutive year. It is a living laboratory in which participants get hands-on lessons in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM). Using aircraft and the airport as teaching tools, the proven curriculum is based on leadership theory and practice.
The campers, who range in age from 10 to 16, learn about aviation history, aerodynamics, navigation, weather, communications, and flight dynamics, but they also learn 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,” said Linda Castner, camp director and co-owner of the airport.
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 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,” he said.
The goal is to get the campers excited about math and science and, in some cases, that excitement has helped build the pilot population. “I really didn’t know much about little airplanes at all. It sparked my interest,” Blake said. “I remember taking two lessons that week and I’ve been flying ever since. I’m almost done with my CFI down at school.”
Two of this year’s instructors, John Weigele and Tucker Gott, earned their private pilot’s certificates at Alexandria Field in the past two years.
The camp instructors are high school and college students with an interest in aviation, and often started as campers before becoming instructors. This year’s instructors included Weigele, a freshman at Kean University who was instructing for his third consecutive year; Gott, a senior at North Hunterdon High School who had been a camper and an assistant in prior years; Savern Lau, a junior at Delaware Valley High School who was a camper last year before becoming a teaching assistant this year; Max Andreychak, a junior at Purdue University; and Caroline Franchino; a freshman at Lehigh and a past camper.
“Linda knew how passionate I was about aviation and thought I’d be a good candidate to teach to kids and explain complex information,” Weigele said. “It’s cool to get younger kids involved. Sharing the knowledge — that’s the biggest thing for me.”
For more information: AlexandriaField.com