JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas –
Local youths were celebrated as future aviators and STEM innovators at the Youth Aerospace Expo at the Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland Kelly Field Annex Nov. 16.
The expo was organized to motivate and encourage youths’ interest in anything aerospace related.
Event organizers from Port of San Antonio reached out to the 502nd Operations Support Squadron to request static aircraft displays, and to coordinate with local-area Air Force recruiters to share opportunities with young men and women interested in joining the Air Force.
“We were excited to support when the Expo team requested our assistance in coordinating static displays for the event. We worked in coordination with our Air Force Reserve teammates at the 433rd Airlift Wing to get a C-5 put on display, and with the Texas Air National Guard’s 149th Fighter Wing for a few F-16s,” said Lt. Col. Benjamin Mather, 502nd Operations Support Squadron commander.
“This event was a success for the Air Force. Not only did we show off some of our Air Force assets, but we were able to connect recruiters from the 341st Training Squadron, responsible for training military working dogs with young men and women curious about a future in the Air Force,” Mather said.
“We saw a need for a community event that is centered on aviation to get youth involved and excited about the aviation industry and community,” said Dawson Call, Port San Antonio industrial airport intern and the event’s organizer. “We reached out to the local aerospace community, robotics, aviation, and military to join and showcase aerospace to youth. Our goal is to bring the community here: to bring the San Antonio community to aviation, to connect the general aviation community here, and to get youth involved.”
This goal was reached by many of the expo’s attendees.
“I think it's been great," said Mollie Drew, who brought both of her children to the expo. “It’s good to get the kids excited. As a high schooler, my son is looking for some connections for internships. We can talk to someone about the jet engines that they work on and build. We got to see some new aircraft. He’s just really into all that stuff.”
The expo created networking opportunities between youth and those in the aerospace community.
“This event was really fun,” said Malachi Drew, 15. “I got to talk to different flight schools and get some information on internships. I want to be an aerospace engineer for my career and fly on the side for recreation. If I did join the military, the C-5 is definitely what I’d want, but I would love to design airframes.”
Kids in attendance were also offered a free orientation flight during an Experimental Aircraft Association Chapter 35 Young Eagles for children aged eight to 17.
“I thought it was awesome!” said Allison Wright, 10. “It was so cool to see the rudders turning and talk on the mikes. I thought it was super cool to see SeaWorld and baseball and football fields. This kind of sparked my interest even more!”
Allison’s father was at the event supporting his daughter’s future as a future aviator.
“She wants to be a pilot,” said Jon R. Wright, Allison’s parent. “During recess at Randolph Elementary on the base, she’ll stop in her tracks and watch the airplanes fly by -- enthralled with it. She was like, 'how cool could it be to be in the Air Force and get to fly?'”
Her heart is set on flying a fighter jet, but the C-5M Super Galaxy on display at the expo caught her attention and would be an acceptable option, Allison said.
“It’s important to us to show what we have to offer to the aviation community, but also to get the youth involved,” Call said. “We felt this would be a really important event to bring on our next generation.”
In focusing on STEM, the expo was a showcase for military and civilian aviators, robotics, drones, virtual reality and general aerospace.
“The military aviation and civilian Aviation have a common tie: aviation,” said Matthew W. Van De Walle, an EEA Chapter 35 escort for the event’s Young Eagle flights, Reserve Citizen Airman, 433rd Operations Group deputy commander, and C-5M pilot. “Sometimes as a Reservist, aviation is a combo that includes civilian and military career paths, but regardless: aviation is science, technology, engineering and math. It encompasses each of the letters of STEM; STEM and aviation are two integral programs that easily overlap and rely on each other.”
The expo helped make the aerospace community a little closer by building bridges between different specialties.
“Today was fantastic; this was a different side of aviation that I didn't expect to see,” said Valerie Peak, who was at the expo with her children. “I see corporate aviation every day for my job, but military aviation is totally different, though it still has the same goal. I hope my kids have a future in aviation; I'm trying to get them to decide … maybe in the Air Force!”
With this being the first of what organizers hope to become a yearly event, the crowd of military, dependents and civilian attendees exceeded initial planning expectations.
Brig. Gen. Laura Lenderman, Joint Base San Antonio and 502nd Air Base Wing commander, witnessed the activities firsthand.
“These are the types of events where we can partner with our community and encourage young men and women in this community to pursue a career in military or commercial aviation,” Lenderman said. “I’m confident this hands-on experience helped inspire several future Air Force aircraft maintainers, flight engineers, airborne communications operators and pilots.”
(Editor's note: Lemitchel King from the 502nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs office contributed to this article.)