KidVenture introduces many facets of aviation to young people.
By Gary Flick
July 27, 2013 - KidVenture has brought smiles to children's faces and knowledge to their minds since it was first established by Tom Poberezny and Dan Majka back in 1999. The target age group is roughly 10-14, but there are activities for kids as young as 4 or 5 as well as high school teens.
This is a family experience, where Mom and Dad can be side by side with their child and gain some knowledge in addition to the quality family time that everyone hopes for at Oshkosh.
KidVenture is located in and around the Pioneer Airport and is open 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the final Sunday.
Majka, who serves as KidVenture chairman, explained how the program came to be.
"We realized that parents were leaving their kids at home, or with grandma in the campground," he said. The idea of KidVenture wasn't necessarily to breed young pilots, but to "repopulate the species" of aviation enthusiasts.
In the program's first year, 50 volunteers including Majka expected about 500 kids to participate in the program. When more than 2,000 showed up, they knew they were on to something.
The program's attendance grew year after year, and KidVenture expects between 22,000 and 25,000 children this year.
"It's educational and hands-on," he said. "And it gives the kids the chance to use tools and technology they wouldn't have access to anywhere else."
Majka does not exaggerate, as the kids who make their way to Pioneer Airport throughout the week will be exposed to aviation workshops and education that resemble some of the hands-on activities occurring in other locations on convention grounds.
The Pioneer Airport hangar is split in half during the week. The left side of the building is the Future A&P area, and the right is Young Eagles Flight Education.
The Future A&P side is filled with hands-on activities, including the prop-shaping station supported by Hartzell; a riveting station on an RV-12, sponsored by Van's Aircraft; an engine workshop run by EAA Chapter 526; rib building at Chapter 43's booth; an electronics troubleshooting booth, brake booth - including changing pads - and even helicopter testing in the Sikorsky booth's wind tunnel where youths get a firsthand glance at the effects of angle of attack and the aerodynamics of a helicopter.
Once youngsters complete these activities, they receive a tool set (graciously donated by Jim Ray, a tremendous supporter of all things KidVenture), a Future A&P pin, and a certificate crediting them with two official hours toward an A&P certificate.
Hamilton Sundstrand, which specializes in wind-powered backup generators in aircraft, has kids build a windmill-style rig that powers LED lights (also pieced together by the kids) that light up.
In the Young Eagles Flight Education area, participants can experience what aspiring pilots go through on their journey to flight, Majka said.
The journey begins with an airplane design simulation to show the kids what flaps do when engaged, what the wind hitting the rudder causes the plane to do, and what designs provide the best aerodynamics.
The second stop is a "book booth" in which the youngsters learn about FAA regulations such as age/hour requirements for certification and other rules of flight.
There is also a booth that educates the kids on the human factors of flight, such as eyesight, breathing practices, how high your body can go without oxygen, and, as Majka said, "Why you shouldn't have those things in your ears turned up to 140 decibels all the time."
The booth also houses a number of professionals who show kids a number of pre-flight activities and answer questions.
Meteorologists are also on hand to explain weather patterns and safe/unsafe conditions. FAA staff show the children how to do an actual pre-flight check.
Air traffic controllers explain controlled airspace, safe flight procedures, and how to plan your voyage.
A post-flight check is done to see what the kids have learned, and if they pass a not-so-strenuous test, they receive a gift bag for their efforts.
Outside the Pioneer hangar is a large tent that also holds a number of educational and fun activities. Kids learn how to fly RC planes inside the tent and take them outside with an instructor to put their skills to the test. There's also a full-scale Mercury space capsule and an RC helicopter flown from the ground with stationary controls and an instructor.
Majka ensures that KidVenture is a fun, educational, and most importantly, safe environment for kids and families.
Majka and his staff of dedicated volunteers all undergo a stiff background check, wear the same shirts and name tags, and receive a daily sticker denoting that they are supposed to be there helping on any given day. He also points out the majority of his volunteers are people who found out about KidVenture by taking their kids there.
"Many of our volunteers are parents who have asked how they can help next year, or even kids who went through the program 10 years ago and now want to pass on their experience," Majka said.
Volunteers are the key, and Majka said more than 500 dedicated individuals donate their time at KidVenture. "Because of them, we can continue to repopulate the species of young aviation enthusiasts," he said.
Majka, who was a teacher for 38 years, added, "You never feel old because the energy of the kids keeps you young. Their enthusiasm is something you can see, and to know you're passing this knowledge onto them, you know that nothing ever really dies."