KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. --
More than two-dozen middle- and high-school students recently spent a week exploring aviation at Kirtland Air Force Base.
The local Tuskegee Airmen Inc. Gen. Lloyd W. “Fig” Newton Chapter and the New Mexico State Office of African-American Affairs sponsor and run the annual Youth Aviation Camp, which is free to participants. The camp covers the science of flight, history and flight plans, and attendees visit the Albuquerque office of the Federal Aviation Administration, see static aircraft displays, use flight simulators and, at the end of the camp, pilot small civilian planes.
Camp chairman and 58th Special Operations Wing instructor pilot retired Lt. Col. Alex Carothers, a member of TAI, said the event usually has 26 or 27 students, up from 13 or 14 when it began nine years ago. Most are 12- to 17-year-olds.
Camp instructor Jim Sauer helped Carothers start the camp.
“Our objective is to get kids to change their minds, get them to think about the things they can do,” he said.
Carothers said it’s amazing what can happen when kids have a dream and help from an organization that supports it.
“We live to hear them say, ‘They’ll pay me to do that?’” Carothers said.
He flew a plane for the first time at age 7 and continued as a pilot through the support of people dedicated to youth in aviation. The camp is his way of giving back.
Camper Magdalene Sanchez, 13, said the experience is fun.
“We do a lot of activities,” she continued. “There’s never really a time when you’re sitting there doing nothing.”
As of this past Thursday, her favorite part was the Huey helicopter simulator. She said she’d learned about how planes and airports operate. Magdalene didn’t think she wanted to be a pilot, but she was considering a career in designing and building aircraft.
Magdalena Municipal School District, a small school system in central New Mexico, provides the camp with buses through a grant, and the curriculum comes from TAI.
Carothers makes the arrangements for field trips and hands-on learning, while the FAA, 58th SOW, Distributed Mission Operations Center, Kirtland Aero Club and Air Force Research Laboratory La Luz Academy allowed visits to or use of their facilities and equipment.
“Without those selfless people, we couldn’t do that,” Sauer said.
Gabriel Carothers, 11, Alex Carothers’ son, called the camp “pretty cool.”
“You get to learn hands-on and then some reading,” he said.
Gabriel, who wants to become a pilot, said he’d learned to start a flight simulator and read the gauges. His favorite part is flying a Cessna, and his least-favorite part is the reading.
“I’m more the action type of kid,” he said.
Alex Carothers said campers learn about the Tuskegee Airmen legacy of persistence and excellence. They gain confidence as they master aviation-related skills.
“I call it ‘I dream of sky,’” he said. “Get them in the plane; get them in the air.”
If the camp influences even a small number of youth to go into aviation, Carothers counts it a success. He said science, technology, engineering and math education groups around New Mexico are starting to communicate better so they can track youth who participate in their programs and see what they become.