Aviation Learning Center Proposed
October 13, 2016
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  • Jerry Graf wants to see an aviation learning center built at Waupaca’s airport next year.

    Graf, founder of the nonprofit Aviators by Design, presented information about the idea to the Waupaca Common Council during its Oct. 4 meeting.

    The center would be a place for youth from throughout the area to meet and put the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) lessons they learn in school into practice.

    People with experience in general aviation would mentor the youth.

    The students would receive hands-on experience in designing, building, maintaining and eventually learning to fly airplanes.

    The design includes about 2,500 square feet of hangar space and 700 square feet of classroom, avionics room and office space.

    The project’s cost estimate is approaching $100,000, according to Graf. 

    The cost will depend on the final design and layout of the building, as well as on how much he is able to raise through in-kind donations and gifts, he said.

    Created in 2010, Aviators by Design mission is to expose youth to aviation.

    In 2012, the organization began sponsoring Aviation Post 9868, which is open to those ages 14 to 21, Graf said.

    Aviators by Design then recruited students to start the program and begin building a two-person plane.

    Meetings initially took place at Central County Airport, outside of Ogdensburg.

    The organization currently meets every other Tuesday night at Poppy’s Field, in the town of Royalton.

    Graf said students from six area high schools are involved in building the airplane.

    For the last three years, the students have also been involved in the General Aviation Manufacturers Association/Build A Plane Aviation Design Challenge.

    The nationwide challenge promotes STEM knowledge among U.S. high school students.

    The local team of students, along with students from 75 other high schools, competed in this past school year’s challenge.

    The base plane the students modified was a Cessna 172, and they used X-Plane simulator software to do so. 

    “The kids came up with the ideas,” Graf said.

    The area students entered as the Weyauwega-Fremont Design Team, because two W-F high school teachers are the educator representatives. 

    The design team won the grand prize and an all-expense trip to Glasair Aviation, in Arlington, Washington, this past summer.

    Three W-F High School students and one Waupaca High School student make the trip with Graf and Mike Hansen, who teaches science at W-F High School.

    Graf said it was a two-week-to-taxi program, which means the students build an airplane in the course of that time.

    “In two weeks, it taxied,” he said. “It was a great experience for these kids.”

    Austin Krause, one of the students who went on the trip, recently talked to the W-F School Board about the trip.

    “We started with a base of a plane and had over 200 tasks to complete,” the W-F High School sophomore said. “The ultimate goal was to get it to roll down the taxiway.”

    Graf said the future of aviation rests in the hands of young people.

    “You give these kids an opportunity – it’s amazing how they can excel,” he said.