Kids Learn Aviation Through 'Tabletop' Airport Class
By ANN Special Correspondent Rose Dorcey
When one of your county's most famous sons is an astronaut,
there are bound to be people within it who share great enthusiasm
for space and aviation. Such is the case of the Monroe County
Aviators, a southeast Wisconsin organization whose goal is to
"teach and encourage kids in the field of aviation."
Comprised mainly of pilots and aviation enthusiasts, the active
group conducts NASA developed tabletop airport classes at the Deke
Slayton Memorial Space and Bike Museum in Sparta, Wisconsin, home
of the Mercury 7 astronaut. The objectives of the class, according
to the museum's Executive Director, Kay Bender, are to teach the
components of an airport and airport operations. The group uses a
made-to-scale model, tabletop size, of nearby Sparta/Fort McCoy
airport (KCMY) to accomplish these goals.
The airport control tower at Sparta/Fort McCoy serves both
general aviation and military aircraft, where it's not unusual to
see a tiny J-3 Cub landing one minute, and a giant C-130 the next.
Area youth have got to be impressed by the variety of aircraft seen
landing there, and based on the large number of students who
participate in the class, it must be true. Bender said that in 2003
over 300 students of all ages participated in programs held at the
On a recent visit to the museum, a group of 15 home-schooled
kids entered the world of flight. Jim Reisinger, Monroe County
Aviator member and a pilot for what he called "too many years"
explained airport terminology to the thoughtful pupils, from wind
socks to airport directories, from aeronautical charts to radio
frequencies. Using a handheld radio, Reisinger tuned in the local
airport frequency for weather, adjusted the tiny windsock, and then
departed from the proper runway, based on the wind reports they
just heard. Using toy airplanes, they "flew" the appropriate
airport pattern, announced their intentions, set up their airplanes
for a landing on Runway 29, then taxied back to their hangars.
The students listened attentively, and when it was their turn to
choose the correct runway and pattern, many were given clearance
for takeoff, proving they had the "right stuff" for learning to
Many of the kids in the group have already flown in airplanes,
but they now have a better understanding of airport procedures.
13-year old Rachel Reeck, Sparta, said, "Taking the class made
flying much more clear to me. I flew on an airline once and I
didn't understand all the turns. Now I understand why airplanes do
what they do, both in the air and on the ground."
The Monroe County Aviators hold classes at the museum on an "on
demand" basis. Classes are limited to 15 students and are
approximately one hour long. There is no charge for the class.
Students also have the opportunity to sign up for a Young Eagles
flight. Local EAA Chapter 935 provides free airplane rides to kids
age 8-17 to introduce them to the wonder of aviation.
At the conclusion of the class, enthusiasm was high. The
students gathered around the airport model, discussing airplanes
and testing each other on the proper traffic patterns. Barbara
Hoffland, a chaperon of the pupils and a home-school teacher to her
family of five, was very appreciative of the efforts of the Monroe
County Aviators and museum staff. She said she and her family have
attended other events at the museum, such as the Wright Brothers
classes in 2003. Attending that class led to a family project of
building a Wright Flyer model.
"As a mother and home-school teacher," Hoffland said, "It is so
nice to have people in our community who will share their knowledge
of aviation. The hands-on activities are great for our kids."
According to Bender, the Deke Slayton Memorial Space &
Bicycle Museum is dedicated to enhancing an understanding and
encouraging an interest and appreciation in the career of Deke
Slayton, the History of Bicycling, Wisconsin Astronauts, and the
aviation history in Monroe County. The partnership between the
museum and the aviation group works well. Bender does the
advertising and scheduling of aviation classes at the museum, while
the Monroe County Aviators do the rest.
"The classes are available to everyone, and we would like as
broad an audience as possible. We try to limit classes to 15 kids,
ages 8-17, but we have quite a range of ages and it still works
very well," said Bender.
Both the Wright Brothers and Tabletop Airport classes are
available at the museum throughout 2004. To schedule a class or
learn more about the programs that are offered, call Kay Bender at