Air Camp provides an intro into aviation like no other

Dakota Wagner (left) and Savannah Smith (center) learn what it’s like to be a firefighter during their second day of Air Camp at Wright-Patterson Air Force July 17. (U.S. Air Force photo/Isabel Velez)

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Dakota Wagner (left) and Savannah Smith (center) learn what it’s like to be a firefighter during their second day of Air Camp at Wright-Patterson Air Force July 17. (U.S. Air Force photo/Isabel Velez)

Young minds experience a summer camp program unlike any other at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. From across the United States, 150 kids participated in interesting and hands-on activities as part of the Air Camp program in July.

For a week, children in groups of about 50 were able to visit locations on base where they were given tours, explored interactive labs and did hands-on activities to facilitate learning and increase interest for an Air Force career.

Each day the students were picked up by a bus from their lodging at the University of Dayton dorms and taken to their daily activities.

On day one in Area A, they received an in-depth tour of a C-17 and experienced training in a flight simulator. In Area B, the students visited the 711th Human Performance Wing where pilots trained for navigating aircraft conditions.

The structure of the camp consists of various activity stations through which all of the children rotate.

Staff Sgt. Luciano Cattaneo worked as an organizer for the second year in a row for the Air Camp activities at the 711th Human Performance Wing. Cattaneo described how smart the kids are and how he wanted to show them special skills needed by pilots as well as what it takes to be in the Air Force.

“Kids are the future, and this camp gives them an introduction into aviation,” said Cattaneo.

Staff Sgt. William Ensrud, a formal training instructor who worked with Cattaneo in scheduling the air camp, noted the experience of working with the kids was enlightening.

“It has been eye-opening. The kids are so smart with their insight into physiology,” said Ensrud.

The facility’s various stations appeal to the children most interested in becoming a pilot or working with planes. The kids were able to receive lessons through simulations and demonstrations teaching the importance of training and attention to detail when flying.

One such lesson the students enjoyed was the Barnui chair, a special device that demonstrates disorientation and lack of spatial awareness to the subject sitting in it. The effects the students observe are how the constant movement of the chair affects balance, which is regulated by head fluid in the ear. In doing this exercise, the campers can experience the effect that constant movement in a plane can impact a pilot.

The students watched as their peers spun in the chair, causing them to be unaware of their spatial orientation with dramatic reactions, such as falling forward and jerking their bodies to the side, which even the subjects found amusing. Through the demonstration, the children gained knowledge of why it’s important for pilots to trust their instruments and maintain awareness of their surroundings.

Nearby, another group of students entered a chamber where, in individual seats, they wore oxygen masks and flight helmets, breathing ambient air to learn about controlled breathing during flight as well as how to use the oxygen flow indicator.

The children were excited to participate in the activities but also took the opportunity to ask detailed questions and demonstrate their knowledge of aviation to the staff.

Savannah Smith, 13, and 12-year-old Dakota Wagner are students who participated in the second week of Air Camp. They received the opportunity through an application process online after hearing about it from other students at their school who went to the camp. Savannah sees this as an opportunity to explore what she likes in a career while Dakota wants to be a pilot for the military.

“You get a lot of different experiences that you wouldn’t get at a normal camp. You get to go places people normally don’t get to go to at this age,” said Savannah.

Dakota agrees and adds that her favorite part was flying in a simulator. She looks forward to flying a plane later in the week when the students are taken to Wright Field where they have a chance to fly with a pilot and learn more about having aviation careers.

“It has been such a cool experience learning new information that I would never hear anywhere else and we get to do some pretty awesome stuff,” said Dakota.

One of the activities the children experienced while on base was visiting the fire station where they learned about emergency response resources and rescue operations. The stations include a lesson in basic emergency response and thermal imaging technology. They also took a turn spraying the fire hose.

The application process to be accepted into Air Camp consists of a providing a referral from a teacher, filling out the registration and submitting a short essay. The students say it’s worth the effort for the benefits they get from camp.

For more information on the Air Camp program, visit

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