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Boy Scouts learn plane facts at Aviation Day airport program in West Mifflin

| Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013, 11:45 a.m.
Patrick Cloonan | Daily News
Boy Scouts, parents and adult leaders gather outside the main terminal of Allegheny County Airport for the start of National Aviation Day events.
Patrick Cloonan | Daily News
Mike Kramer of Jefferson Hills, assistant director of operations for Corporate Air, explains the function of a charter jet to area Boy Scouts gathered on Monday at Allegheny County Airport for National Aviation Day.
Max Caro of Swissvale gets a closeup look at the wing of a charter jet from Gerry Vaerewyck of West Deer Township, a Civil Air Patrol volunteer and Federal Aviation Administration Safety team representative.

In observance of National Aviation Day, area Boy Scouts received a special lesson at Allegheny County Airport.

It started on Monday outside of a chartered jet on the West Mifflin airfield's runway.

“How many years do you need to be a pilot?” Jasdeep Sadam of Troop 143 in Monroeville asked Corporate Air assistant director of operations Mike Kramer.

“A two-year associate degree, though typically an individual will get a bachelor's degree,” said Kramer of Jefferson Hills, who has a master's degree from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and worked with US Airways for three years before joining Corporate Air in 2008.

Approximately 75 Scouts gathered at the airport with parents and adult leaders. They saw a sturdy plane that clearly is the sum of a lot of parts.

“The skins on these airplanes are very thin aluminum,” said Gerry Vaerewyck, a Federal Aviation Administration safety team representative and Civil Air Patrol volunteer from West Deer Township. “Don't lean on them or you can leave dents in them.”

He asked participants if they knew what an aircraft is.

Members of Irwin Moose Troop 257 were quick to answer that it was fixed-wing and flies with propulsion.

Vaerewyck said that was right, but “aircraft” also covers a wide range that includes dirigibles and gliders.

“I was looking for an airport that could accommodate this many Scouts,” said Joanne Gribschaw, a parent accompanying 19 members of Troop 257. Two other troop members working toward the badge were unable to attend.

Gribschaw said she started with the 171th Air Refueling Wing near Pittsburgh International Airport, but so many attend classes there that troops are limited to 10 participants.

She called Arnold Palmer Regional Airport in Latrobe and then County, asking, “would they be interested in putting a program together.”

Allegheny County Airport Authority had the time and pulled together a program that also involved Corporate Air, Pittsburgh Institute of Aeronautics, STAT MedEvac, Pittsburgh Flight Training and others at Pennsylvania's seventh-busiest airport.

“It is a great thing for aviation,” County Airport general aviation duty manager Tony Macioce said. “The turnout is good. We'll probably do this every year.”

“They'll be able to earn an aviation merit badge at a real airport rather than sit in a classroom and watch videos,” said Allegheny County Airport Authority solicitor Michael Wojcik, who is an assistant scoutmaster for Troop 646 in Point Breeze.

National Aviation Day dates back to 1939, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed it to mark the anniversary of Orville Wright's birth. In 1903, Orville and his brother Wilbur were credited with conducting the first free, controlled and sustained flights in a power-driven, heavier-than-air machine.

By 1939 County Airport already had been in operation for eight years, as a successor to nearby Bettis Field.

Until 1952 it would serve as Pittsburgh's major commercial airport. Since then County has been a base for private and charter craft, including the one the Scouts toured and examined on Monday.

“How much is the plane?” one Scout asked Kramer. “$16 million,” he replied, adding that planes can be chartered for anywhere from $1,800 to “right under $10,000.”

The plane he demonstrated can fly under normal circumstances across the country on one tank of fuel. Kramer recalled one recent charter where an actor flew around the world, including stops in Bahrain and Perth, Australia.

“What are those pokey things?” one Scout asked. Vaerewyck said the rods that stick out from an airplane's wing take in the static electricity produced during flight.

Vaerewyck pointed out that static electricity affects flight communications.

He said radios on board use “old fashioned AM,” where static electricity would cause the crackling that can be heard on ground AM sets during lightning storms.

Calling the Scouts “the future of our country,” Wojcik said he hopes that “they'll be interested in aviation” as a result of Monday's lessons.

Patrick Cloonan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161 ext. 1967, or