Kids soar at summer aviation camp in Vancouver

Pearson Air Museum event aims to instill love of flying

By Tom Vogt, Columbian science, military & history reporter


photoAbigail Jiang, 8, of Camas walks past a restored 1943 AT-6 airplane while attending summer aviation camp at Pearson Air Museum.


Abigail Jiang has tested her aviation skills in some challenging situations, like flying through snow and ice to land a cargo plane at an airport in Alaska.

“I crashed a lot,” the 8-year-old Camas girl said.

But Jiang and 11 other students have logged plenty of successful takeoffs and landings on flight simulators this week at Pearson Air Museum’s annual summer aviation camp.

The camp participants, ranging in age from 8 to 17, will wrap things up today with a much more realistic exercise. They’ll climb aboard airplanes owned by local pilots for flights over the Vancouver area — and each student will get a chance to handle the controls during the flight.

Did you know ?

• The simulators at Pearson Air Museum can plot flights from Vancouver to 27,000 airports around the world.

• The Capt. Al Coupe Aviation Summer Camp is named for a retired airline pilot and Pearson Air Museum volunteer who died in 2003; his family provides financial support for the camp.

It’s a big step up from flight simulators and video games, but camp instructor and volunteer pilot Bob Foster isn’t concerned about his students getting queasy. They’ll be too busy to worry, he said.

“I haven’t had one kid yet get airsick,” said Foster.

And taking the controls of a small airplane isn’t all that complicated, said Foster, who retired in 2004 after 28½ years as a jetliner pilot.

“It’s almost like driving a bicycle. It’s one step up from that,” said the Battle Ground pilot.

But more fun.

“It’s pretty cool,” said Kaya Galbraith, 12, of Vancouver. She got some stick time last week, and her brother Kjer, 14, is in this week’s camp.

“You don’t need much pressure on the stick; just slight adjustments,” Kaya Galbraith said.

The week’s camp was the third and final session of the summer. The sessions included ground-school classes and a field trip Friday to a Horizon Air maintenance hangar at Portland International Airport.

“We want to instill a love of flying in a new generation of kids,” said Bill Alley, director of the Pearson Air Museum.

Even for people who do a lot of traveling, the typical airline experience doesn’t offer a lot to love, Alley said: “You walk through one aluminum tube into another aluminum tube.”

The student fee is $350. “We have kids already signed up for 2011,” Alley said.

“It’s really rewarding to watch the smiles,” Foster said. He can describe another way to gauge the students’ enthusiasm.

“I have to kick them out of the simulation room,” he said. “Lock the door and make them walk away.”

Some of the campers say they might use this experience as a stepping stone to a career.

“I might want to become a pilot,” Kaya Galbraith said.

“I’m hoping to get my private pilot’s license,” said 14-year-old Robert Crismon of Camas.

One former camper is on his way. Aric Krause of Vancouver, who is helping out as an instructor this summer, is a student pilot now.

“I’m working on my private license,” Krause, 17, said.

There are other benefits to the summer sessions, even if the participants don’t realize it. The ground-school classes include science, math and geography.

“It covers a lot of different subjects,” said Jerome Galbraith, father of campers Kaya and Kjer. “They’re learning, without knowing it.”

Tom Vogt: 360-735-4558 or