By Greg Anderson
With support from volunteers and educators throughout Colorado, Wings Over the Rockies conducted an unprecedented barnstorming tour from August 29 to October 6. The tour brought together generations of aviators and elementary school students at airports in 17 Colorado communities.
The “Spreading Wings” Tour recognized community leaders and airport officials, and promoted the importance of aviation through print, radio and television media. It also inspired a new generation of young people, who participated in activities at each tour stop.
Beginning at Centennial Airport (APA) and wrapping up at Front Range Airport (FTG), the tour brought a vintage airplane and pioneer pilot together with a modern airplane and young pilot in communities from Meeker to Lamar, and from Durango to Akron. Each community received a Governor’s Proclamation from Governor Bill Owens and a letter from the tour’s honorary chairman, Erik Lindbergh, honoring the importance of their local airport and aviation activity. Owens and Lindbergh met each other at the launch ceremony at Centennial Airport, 59 years to the same week that Charles Lindbergh met then Governor Billy Adams, and helped promote aviation in Colorado.
In addition, school classes met the pilots, toured the aircraft and received hands-on education lessons from computer simulators, which traveled from city to city with a museum representative. Participating aircraft included an Adam A-500 from Adam Aircraft, a Javelin demonstrator from ATG, a Piper Saratoga provided by Carl Williams and a Boeing Stearman from Mike Baldwin. Each student received a certificate of achievement signed by participating pilots.
Each of the 17 tour stops provided great stories that underscored the positive impact of the tour. In one community, a local official, who had never been a friend of the airport, was impressed with the education programs and began to speak enthusiastically about the airport’s importance. A teacher in Steamboat Springs was so impressed that she plans to bring the class to visit Wings in Denver this fall. In Meeker, volunteers battled marginal weather to coordinate an airport open house, maintenance seminar, orientation flights, Young Eagles registrations and a film screening
The National Guard, Civil Air Patrol and Colorado Soaring Association participated and made the Greeley tour stop part of an ongoing community aviation education program. In Gunnison, Renee Ray, a student pilot, was moved to offer to pay for ground school lessons for any participating young people
Airport management threw a barbecue for all students and tour participants in Eagle and Front Range, and Army skydivers provided jump practice demonstrations in Canon City. In Alamosa, the pioneer pilot and student pilot presenters were grandfather and grandson.
The tour was a great example of aerospace organizations working together for a common cause. The Colorado Division of Aeronautics played a key role, together with the Colorado Airport Operators Association. Volunteers from the Colorado Pilots Association, Experimental Aircraft Organization, Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association and NASA organized program activities at each stop, together with airport managers and school teachers.
More than 650 students, who received advance information on flight planning, were able to “fly” a mission during their visit to the airport, using Microsoft Flight Simulator. Follow-up materials also provided by Wings Over the Rockies included paper airplane designs and museum passes.
Perhaps most important, the tour was the first step toward development of a database of educators and volunteers who will receive training, tools and resources from Wings Over the Rockies, to provide additional aerospace education programs throughout the state. The University of Denver is working with Wings to develop the interactive database, which, like the tour itself, will be a model for other museums to provide outreach programs.
The Spreading Wings Barnstorming Tour, and its follow-on education programs, received generous support from The Boeing Corporation, Jeppesen and the Buehler Trust. Each organization is a fitting partner in advancing education activities to teachers and young people, and the tour wouldn’t have been possible without them.
Speaking of key people, Ed Huber provided leadership for each tour stop, as statewide tour coordinator, flying to each stop and organizing airport logistics. The tour was 100 percent on time and produced many smiles from the young people under his leadership. He applied management as a retired Air Force instructor pilot with command experience at the Air Force Academy and Lowry Air Force Base.
Museum volunteer Jeff Franta was on the road for six weeks. He put nearly 3,000 miles on his car, taking computers and education materials to be on the “front lines,” working with excited students and teachers on specially designed flight simulation education programs. The smiles and excitement of the young people were the most rewarding part of the tour.
Darci Wert, Wings director of education, led the education planning efforts with designated teachers and lesson plans. Jill Bagdasarian, director of marketing and development, coordinated media volunteers and representatives, to promote the tour’s objectives through dozens of organizations to thousands of individuals. Channel 9’s Nick O’Kelly, the “official meteorologist” of the tour, followed it throughout Colorado.
Greg Anderson is president & CEO, Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum.