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STEM campers take flight

Photo by Lauren Langlois

THE SKY'S THE LIMIT -- Laila Dangerfield, 15, sits in front of the Fly By Knight Flight School aircraft, a Piper Warrior. In the back seat is Hayden Gibbens, 13. Both are attending the fifth annual STEM/Aviation Summer Camp run by the Tangipahoa African American Heritage Museum. The camp gives students a chance to take a ride in a plane with a flight instructor and more.

By LAUREN LANGLOIS staffwriter@hammondstar.com

Campers at the Tangipahoa African American Heritage Museum's STEM/Aviation Summer Camp are airborne this week as they take on flying.

The four-week camp encourages school-age children to develop a lifelong fascination in science, technology, engineering and math, with a particular focus on aviation.

This is the second week for the camp, and most of the week will be spent learning different aspects of aeronautics during visits to the Hammond Northshore Regional Airport.

The campers went through an introductory flight training Monday. With the ground school training finished, they get to spend time in the air with a flight instructor in a single engine aircraft. They also got to tour the Homeland Security Air Branch at the airport.

Today, they will visit the airport terminal, the Civil Air Patrol and the airport's control tower. Flight sessions for campers will continue through Thursday until everyone has had a turn to see Hammond from about 3,000 feet.

Campers flew in pairs, with each getting the chance to sit up front next to the instructor, even taking over the yoke of the plane to steer for a period.

Brandy Jackson, 13, and Ja'zyia Johnson, 11, were some of the first campers to go up in the flight school's Piper Warrior Monday. Guiding them was Fly By Knight flight instructor Patrick Berrigan, who has been flying for 31 years.

Johnson said the journey was "scary at first." But after a while, the butterflies went away and they started enjoying themselves. They enjoyed seeing the natural landscape of Hammond and the surrounding areas, including Tangipahoa River, as well as getting to help pilot.

"We got to actually turn," Jackson said excitedly.

They said the experience made them want to learn more about piloting.

The introductory class was led by Sharon Knight, owner of Fly By Knight Flight School. Knight said the class goes over the technical side of flying.

She also told the campers about what it takes to become a pilot and why the career is worth pursuing. She said her goal is to encourage the youngsters to consider becoming pilots when they get older.

There is a shortage of pilots with many professionals reaching retirement age, Knight said.

Becoming a pilot involves a lot of training and financial investment, she said, but in the end the effort is worth it, as the career is well-paying and comes with good benefits. There are scholarship opportunities to help cover the cost of training, she added.

"It's a great, great time to be a pilot," she said.

LTC Erin Williams, program coordinator for the camp, said this year has the largest group of campers in its five-year history. Thirty-three students signed up for the program, which will wrap up June 28.

This year's program has a new activity to add to the itinerary. Williams said the airport-based company SkyLens donated computers that will be used to introduce the group to coding.

During the first week, campers constructed bridges out of glue and popsicle sticks that will be tested later to see what weight they can handle. They built rockets that will be launched later this week and learned to operate a drone, among other educational activities.

They explored the many science exhibits at the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory in Livingston.

Later on in the program, they will visit the Nissan plant in Canton, Miss.

Williams said the camp would not be possible without the various donations given to the program, including the $5,000 grant from the Hammond Northshore Regional Airshow Foundation.