Students from Coda Explore scouted the world of aviation last week at a unique Fayette County business.
A group of students in grades 5-11 from Coda Mountain Academy visited Fayetteville's Wild Blue Adventure Company Tuesday in keeping with their weekly theme of studying flight and rockets, according to Esther Morey, executive director of the academy.
The previous week, summer campers in grades K-5 in Coda Explore Kidz engaged in a week's activities with a theme of Birds and Flight, and among their endeavors was also a visit to Wild Blue Adventure.
"We did a combination of building large bird hotels and bird habitats, and also studying their flight, but we also studied flight with airplanes and drones and helicopters, so the kids as part of their week came out to Wild Blue Adventure and got to do hands-on stuff," Morey said of last week's activities. "They actually got to climb into the medical helicopter, watch drones fly, then they got to see the biplane land and take off and do aerobatics in the air, which was absolutely fabulous. Thy were beside themselves with excitement."
"We're not studying birds this week, but we're studying flight and adding in rockets," Morey said of the older group of students. They also planned to involve themselves with water and air rockets later in the week, building some "fairly complicated" models, she said.
A storm earlier in the week prevented the older students from seeing the biplane in action on Tuesday, but the possibility existed that they would see it later in the week.
"They are absolutely awestruck, having such a great time," Morey said. "They love doing hands-on things" and "seeing and experiencing things for real."
She also said that Bill Chouinard, who owns and operates Wild Blue Adventure with his wife, Ashley, provided a good deal of World War II history for the students, as well as details on the history of flight in general. Chouinard also provided information on the 1943 Boeing-Stearman biplane in which aerobatic and non-aerobatic tours are offered by the company over the New River Gorge. The aerobatics offered includes barrel rolls, cravats, hammerheads and s-turns.
Among the other Tuesday activities were watching a drone in action, visiting with crew members of the Air Evac Lifeteam 103, viewing a Cessna 150 Aerobat, and, at the end of the visit, seeing a Bede BD-5 kit plane housed locally and hearing some of the plane's history.
"We're very moved by all these people volunteering to give these kids such a rich experience," said Morey.
Brandon Gehman, who is entering the seventh grade at Oak Hill Middle School, said, "What we're learning is about airplanes and flight." He said the week so far had been "really enjoyable."
"I learned how different things in a helicopter work," he said of Tuesday's activities. Also, he and his fellow students gained knowledge on how the biplane operates. Gehman is considering pursuing a career in an aviation-related field or in music.
The Chouinards have been operating Wild Blue for three years. "I've been teaching out of this airport for about five years and flying out of this airport for 15," he said. "We actually purchased the company from good friends of ours, Chris and Cindy Kappler, who started the business 12 years ago.
"There's been a Stearman flying in Fayetteville in sort of the Five Dollar Frank (Fayette Airport legend Frank K. Thomas) nostalgia for a long time now."
"There's a couple of things that for me are really important," Bill Chouinard said of the interaction with the Coda students, and the visiting public, as well. "One, I want people to have some knowledge about the pathway to becoming a pilot. Basically, that there's people you can ask in our community that can help you figure it out. It's not a traditional path; it's not becoming a teacher or a mechanic or a lawyer or something like that where the school system is very knowledgeable and can help you build a pathway to getting those careers. If I want to be a pilot, who do you go to if that's your quest, right? As kids, I want them to know, first of all, this airport's been around for a long time. Frank taught a lot of people out of this airport, and they can come here and we can help them.
"Whether I'm doing the primary training or I'm referring them somewhere, I'm more than happy to take some time, adult or a kid, and help you figure out how you can make your flying dreams come true."
The second aim is to "just create some excitement; get these kids, like, fired up. I was lucky enough to grow up around airplanes. My dad was a pilot. I have old logbooks of him literally when I was four, logged as co-pilot as Billy. And I cherish those things, and those memories are deeply imprinted in me, so hopefully we're leaving a deep impression in these kids. Maybe they don't want to be a pilot. I work for the Air Evac Lifeteam; I've been with them for over 10 years. I'm not a pilot there; I'm actually a flight nurse."
While that job is "aviation-related," there's "a whole nother avenue to it, so showing them that, hey, you don't have to be a professional pilot. I'm a commercially-rated pilot to fly here at Wild Blue. We've got John (Woods) here with his Aerobat. He's just an average guy who's retired. You know what he likes to do in his spare time? He flies his airplane.
"There's all these different ways to get up in the air. We like to show kids that."
Before CMA students and staff boarded their bus to depart the airport facility, Tony Mullins, president of the Fayette County Airport Association, briefed them on the history of a Bede BD-5 kit airplane that is onsite. The plane was designed in the 1970s, and the goal is to display it on airport property near the Wild Blue Mountain headquarters, Mullins explained.
Wild Blue Adventure Co. normally schedules flights five days a week during a six-month season, with a reduced volume of trips in the offseason. For more, visit wildblueadventurecompany.com.
For more on Coda Mountain Academy, visit https://www.codamountain.com/.
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