2018 Aviation Camp

Ask any roomful of students what they want to be someday and the answers typically range from doctor to fireman to teacher to pro-ball player to super-model. Very rarely do you hear a student answer “pilot, aeronautical engineer, air traffic controller, or aircraft mechanic.” Is it because there’s just no interest or is it because students aren’t aware of those options.

The LaPorte Municipal Airport in LaPorte, Indiana decided to find out and do something about it.

In 2014, the airport ran a 3-day Aviation Camp as a test of potential interest. Registration forms were left at a few local schools and a home-school group. Within 10 days, camp was full.  The camp was limited to 15 middle school students, but when two openings were left, a mother of triplets showed up and so camp was extended to 16 students.

That first year, the Kalamazoo Air Zoo came and taught “Aviation Flight Science,” “Rocket Science,” and “The Forces Are With You.”  These were all hands-on classes that taught students the basics of flight.

Students also received a flight from a local pilot. Most of those 16 middle schoolers had never been in a plane before. Every single student was over-joyed with their ride and determined that would not be their last time in a small plane.

Comments from parents at the end of camp included “my son told me that aviation camp was the best thing he did all summer” and “my daughter didn’t want to attend, but I forced her, and now she says she wants a career in aviation.”

Camp was so successful, there was never any doubt that it would continue in the future.

Fast forward 5 years to 2018. Camp now fills an entire week and is open to students entering 6th – 12th grades with both a  morning and afternoon session.  This year, there were 47 middle school and 22 high school students, nearly ½ of whom have been to camp at least one other year, several that have attended 3+ years, and 2 brothers that have attended all 5.

Camp has evolved into much more than classes and a flight. Nowadays, speakers with varying backgrounds and careers share their love of aviation with the students. Universities have presented information about their aviation programs.  Over the years students have heard from a Lockheed Martin engineer, retired medical helicopter pilot, air traffic controller, aircraft carrier flight physician, aircraft mechanics, commercial drone operators, and airline pilots, to name a few.

Sometimes, a static display is part of the camp experience. Pilots are invited to park their planes and discuss them with the students. No plane or story is turned away. We’ve run the gamut from warbirds to taildraggers, and corporate jets to experimental.

Another significant addition from that first year is the inclusion of a field trip, including the Kalamazoo Air Zoo, Grissom Air Museum, and Challenger Learning Center. However, the highlight of all these field trips took place this year, when the high school students visited United Airlines at O’Hare Airport. UA pulled out all the stops and allowed the students to visit the maintenance hangar, where a 777 was on jacks, with bays open and cowlings off jet engines. Mechanics spent time explaining how the engines, systems, and multitude of wiring all worked together. Students then went to the terminal where they visited Operations and Ground Control. It was hard to determine who was more impressed – the students or the adult chaperones!

In reality, camp has taken on a life of its own. As word has spread and success grows, more and more people offer to volunteer. Every additional person who jumps on the camp bandwagon has a new group of contacts and fresh ideas. This is one of the reasons camp never becomes stale. Students can attend year after year knowing they’ll hear new speakers, learn something new, and have different experiences. That said, the one thing that never changes is the flight – which is always a highlight of the week. In all these years, only one student needed the barf bag – and he still described his flight as “AWESOME.”

Every year, a wait list of students interested in camp begins months before registration opens. Some is from students who had to be turned away the prior year, some is due to news coverage, some from social media, and some from word-of-mouth. Possibly the best word-of-mouth call received was “I was at the dentist last week, she told me her neighbor’s son attended some kind of aviation camp? How do I sign my son up next year?”

If you would like information about 2019 Camp, send your name, address, email, along with name and age of student to: diane@laporteairport.com.

2018 Sponsors

Braje, Nelson & Janes, LLP
General Insurance Services
LaPorte Aero Club
Dead Skunk Works
Good Vibrations

Aviation Camp 2016

What do you get when you combine 49 6th – 12th grade students, airplanes, drones, rockets, pilots, speakers, and classes? At the LaPorte Municipal Airport in Indiana, you get Aviation Camp.

Three years ago, the idea of a camp to inspire and educate students about aviation was launched as a test program. Within 10 days of handing out a few registration forms in the community, 17 students in 6th – 8th grades were registered. That initial 3-day camp included a flight, a “behind the scenes tour” and classes taught by the Kalamazoo Air Zoo. It was an enormous success, and has now expanded to 5 days, includes both morning and afternoon sessions, and is open to high school students as well as middle school.

The flights are given by local pilots, who spend about 45 minutes with 2 to 3 students at a time, explaining their plane, showing them a pre-flight, answering their questions, and then they’re loaded in, buckled up, and off for a 15 – 20 minute flight. For most students, this is their first flight in a small plane. Without fail, they are all smiles and excitement about their flight and usually consider this the highlight of their camp experience.

Camp has evolved in the 3 years from one class of 17 students, to 4 classes of 49 students. Now, classes are taught by local aviation experts and involve topics such as drones, powered parachutes, aerodynamics, and space exploration. Experts such as a medical helicopter pilot, flight attendant, airline pilot, and Civil Air Patrol volunteer share their experiences. A speaker told about her 30-day race around the world. A pilot who races at Reno came and completely captivated the students with stories of his experiences.

And now, instead of the Kalamazoo Air Zoo coming here, the airport charters buses and brings students and chaperones to the Zoo for a day of tours and more classes.

In addition, a “Community Aviation Night” capped off camp on Friday night. The airport’s apron was full of airplanes and helicopters. Booths were set up from organizations such as the army (who showed up with a Blackhawk), flight school, 99’s, Civil Air Patrol, and more. The highlight of the evening was a presentation by General Dan Cherry, a retired F-4 Phantom pilot who told his story, “My Enemy, My Friend” which involves his 1972 dogfight with a MiG-21 during Vietnam, and his meeting and subsequent friendship with the MiG pilot 36 years later.

One might assume the cost for students to attend camp is expensive. However, through the generosity of private and corporate sponsors, and because the airport board is committed to making this camp affordable to all students, each student pays only $50.

It’s impossible to know how many of these students will become future aviators, but the excitement level is undeniable. Out of the 49 students enrolled this year, 17 were repeat students from prior years. Nearly every student expressed the desire to come back next year. There is already a wait list of a dozen students whose registration forms arrived after camp was full.

Comments received from parents and students include: “my son says this is the best thing he did all summer,”  “my daughter didn’t want to come to camp but now wants a career in aviation,” “how old do I have to be to take lessons,” “we were at the edge of our seats listening to General Cherry,”  “my dental hygienist told me her son attended your aviation camp – how do I sign my child up” and the best of all “when is adult aviation camp?”

The answer to that last question is still in the works.

Laporte Municipal Airport

Laporte Municipal Airport