Third-grade learning takes flight at airport |

Third-grade learning takes flight at airport

by Scott Neuffer

While adults continue to debate the merits of an airport use ordinance, children from two Valley elementary schools didn’t seem to care much about politics when they visited the Minden-Tahoe Airport on Wednesday.

Rather, third-graders from Pinon Hills and Minden elementary schools, approximately 145, seethed with excitement as the first bus of students was led behind the Hutt Aviation hangar. Before them lay a dazzling array of planes, gliders, fire trucks and helicopters.

“We really want to highlight the educational value of aviation and what the airport has to offer,” said Steve Mokrohisky, assistant Douglas County manager and organizer of the airport’s inaugural Aviation Education Day. “To see the look in the kids’ faces is just awesome.”

Mokrohisky said there’s talk to establish a permanent learning center at the airport that would help expose what he calls the “public value” of the facility: military, public safety and sport aviation.

“There is a broad diversity of things here that benefit the community,” he said.

However diverse, students couldn’t get enough.

They broke up into groups and toured the different stations set up by the Civil Air Patrol, the Nevada Division of Forestry and other agencies, as well as several private pilots.

Paul McFarlane, lead flight director and instructor of the Challenger Learning Center of Northern Nevada, invited students into Spaceship Earth, a large inflatable dome of a movie theater inside which students viewed a moon colony and other fantastic places.

“Are you ready to be astronauts today?” McFarlane asked. “How many of you have been in a spaceship before?”

McFarlane explained that the Earth is a giant spaceship traveling through the universe, but with everything humans need already contained within the atmosphere: oxygen, water and food.

“Aren’t we traveling through space now?” he asked the moon-eyed faces.

Douglas County School District Director of Curriculum Kerry Pope said the airport’s new program aligns with third-grade science.

“It’s a great opportunity and very relevant to what’s going on in class,” she said. “There’s so much you can do and see out here.”

Although the district plans to switch up schools next year, Pope said Pinon and Minden students were especially enthused because they constantly see aircraft in the sky.

One such sky rider was helping kids in and out of the cockpit of a DG-500 two-seat glider. With a 72-foot wingspan and a long, skinny body, the glider perched silently on the tarmac like some magnificent bird of the future.

“They’re absolutely excited,” said Gardnerville resident, pilot and flight instructor Tupper Robinson, who’s owned the glider since 1989. “I love to teach to kids, mostly youngsters out here.”

“I like the comfy seat and the thingy that moves,” said 8-year-old Carter Olson.

He could have been referring to any number of things inside the cockpit. His classmates helped define exactly what held their collective interest.

“The control and comfy seat,” said Eduardo DePaz, 9. “I bet you can see my house in it.”

“The comfy seat, control and buttons,” added 8-year-old Avery Marshall. “It’s kind of scary and hard and cool.”

Like many children her age, Avery said she dreams of flying.

“I just want to fly without anything holding me,” she said, “but sometimes I would want to ride in a plane because they’re pretty cool.”

A glider was impressive, but a Black Hawk helicopter from the Nevada Army National Guard put the students over the top.

“It’s good for them to figure out what kind of careers they want, whether civil or military,” said Aaron Southerland, Chief Warrant Officer III, Charlie Company, 1/168th Medical Evacuation.

A Genoa resident and 1994 Douglas High graduate, Southerland returned from Afghanistan about 10 months ago with all the men and women in his unit.

“They put a big red and white cross on us, take away our weapons and send us into combat,” he said. “We were the last company there to cover the entire country.”

In a year-long deployment, Southerland said his unit transported 3,442 patients over some of the most challenging mountain terrain in the world.

Now, they support the Civil Air Patrol and assist the state with search and rescue missions.

“We want to educate the kids,” Southerland said. “The U.S. has led the aviation and aerospace industry for years.”

Paige Rhead, 8, was not only fascinated by the cross on the side of the helicopter, but by her classmate Avery, who tried on one of the heavy crew vests inside the aircraft.

“I think the seats are pretty cool,” Paige said.

“Buckle this,” Avery asked while wrestling with the equipment. “This is where the patients lie on the mattress in the middle.”

Back in the hangar, Mokrohisky thanked Hutt Aviation for the use of their facilities.

“It’s a good cause,” said Hutt Aviation owner Alan Gangwish. “We want to get young kids into aviation, and this is a way to give back to the community.”