Just Plane Fun
By Suzanne Wilson
The Blackhawk Area Council's AirCamp 2005 combined aviation themes and events with traditional Scouting activities.
"I'm really excited! I love everything to do with airplanes!" exclaimed Mike Guirl, 14, as Saturday's activities began at the Blackhawk Area Council's AirCamp 2005, a camporee combining aviation with Scouting fun.
The Scout from Troop 425, chartered to Christ United Methodist Church, Rockford, Ill., was among 3,500 Boy Scouts, Venturers, Webelos Scouts, Cub Scouts, parents, leaders, and staff at the council's first aviation camporee last October.
Camping and program activities took place in a large grassy area owned by the Chicago/Rockford International Airport, while activities involving aircraft were staged on the edge of the airport.
All visitors enjoyed a display of famous aircraft, crowding around a MiG-21 jet fighter, a Russian YAK-52 trainer, a Douglas DC-3 passenger plane (once used by an airline in Alaska), and a Blanik L33 Solo glider made in the Czech Republic.
By climbing a ladder, Scouts could see the MiG cockpit controls or sit in the sleek white glider and imagine soundless flight. Paul van den Heuvel, owner of the MiG, said the display generated "fantastic response from both little kids and big kidsthe dads."
In another area, light planes were taking off with Boy Scouts as passengers, courtesy of the local chapter of the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA). The planes (none of them "experimental") were owned by pilots in the EAA Young Eagles program, which offers free flights to youths ages 8 to 17. (More information on the EAA and its Young Eagles program is available at www.eaa.org and www.youngeagles.org.)
Before takeoff Scouts listened to information that applied to the Aviation merit badge.
"Amazing," reported Mike Guirl after his flight. "Roller coasters aren't nearly as good as this."
Plenty to do
In AirCamp's big playground of activities, Boy Scouts and Venturers played a challenging teamwork game called Select Civilian Operated Urgent Tactics Simulator (SCOUTS), created by Scouter Rick Delaney. Six to eight people holding cables maneuvered a large model of a Blackhawk helicopter through a sequence of tasks to avert a disaster.
Scouts admired a display of radio-controlled planes presented by the Rock Valley R/C Flyers Club and asked questions: "How much do these planes cost?" "Where can I buy one?" "Where can I fly them?"
Saturday also included two flying demonstrations by model-airplane enthusiasts of "U-control" model planes tethered to wire guidelines.
While Webelos Scouts and leaders camped with troops, Cub Scout families came in for Saturday activities.
The Lock family from Pack 77, Poplar Grove, Ill., stopped at a booth where Kodi, 8, made an airplane weather vane. "This is nice," said Michelle, Kodi's mom. "We wish we could camp out. That's what we're looking forward to."
The field was filled with nonaviation activities, too, some geared to specific levels of Scouting and others open to all.
"We brainstormed to come up with things that were different and just fun," said Ray Warren, AirCamp activities chairman. "We had four times as many ideas as we were able to use."
Boy Scouts and Venturers who played "Human Foosball," a rented game, were belted to ropes that crossed an inflated enclosure, like the miniature players in the popular table game. "Awesome...but hard to do," said Scouts from Troop 131, McHenry, Ill.
"You're used to normal soccer, but in this game you're tied to a rope," explained Chris Byers, 12.
Younger visitors tried tire bowlingrolling small tires toward heavy cardboard tube "pins." Scouter Dan Coulson amused onlookers with his patter: "Thousands of peopleI mean hundredswell, several dozen, have tried it. People come from hundreds of yards away to watch this."
A variety of high adventure events for Venturers included BMX bike racing, "frolfing" (disc golf), and a trip to a private pistol club, where they received individual shooting instruction at an indoor range. [NOTE: BSA policy limits handgun use to the Venturing program. Handguns are not permitted in Boy Scouting or Cub Scouting. Cub Scouting does not allow the use of any type of firearm other than air (BB) rifles in BSA camps where trained supervisors are present.]
When Venturers gathered in the evening, they talked about the day.
"I had a lot of fun," said April Harman of Crew 159, of Woodstock, Ill., who had never been pistol shooting before. The shooting range had also been a highlight for many other Venturers. "It's something we don't get to do often," explained Erick Dahlberg of Crew 10, of Pecatonica, Ill.
Still ahead was AirCamp's arena show featuring Horizon, a U.S. Navy rock band. "I can't wait for that," said April.
AirCamp's planners, led by volunteer chairman Ed Allen (see box at left), worked a year ahead on what they came to call their "extravaganza."
"We brainstormed early," said Allen. "Someone would come up with an idea, and the response would be, 'Let's go for it.' Our slogan was, 'The sky's the limit.'"
Throughout the process, planners worked closely with airport officials, who acted as liaisons between the council and the Federal Aviation Administration and the Department of Homeland Security.
AirCamp was not open to the public, and at registration, every person was supplied with a wristband.
Dan Banko, logistics chairman, explained this was "not your usual camporee" because "we're by the airport, and we have to go by their rules and regulations."
Scouters put up an orange barrier fence around the static aircraft display, so no one would wander beyond AirCamp limits.
AirCamp occupied a site of about 100 acres, and everything had to be set up in two days.
Banko directed the creation of what was almost a small town. Two Scouters who are professional surveyors laid out the campsites. Jamboree-style subcamps were named Apollo 13, Aviators, Friendship 7, Canaveral, Kittyhawk, and Mitchell (for General Mitchell International Airport-Air Reserve Station in Milwaukee).
In each subcamp, troops from different districts camped side by side.
Cooks prepared hot meals for a staff of more than 160, and food vendors in the program area were ready with lunch and snack items.
An aeronautic finale
Former astronaut, U.S. Navy Capt. James A. Lovell, retired, and Air Force Maj. Gen. John Borling, retired, were AirCamp's honorary co-chairs. The Saturday evening arena show, held in an aircraft hangar, featured a videotaped message from Distinguished Eagle Scout Lovell. He credited his Scouting experience with giving him self-confidence and encouraged Scouts to become Eagle Scouts.
Borling led the audience through a mesmerizing daydream of taking off with him in an F-15 jet fighter: "A sense of exhilaration, a sense of wonder and awe, as we go straight up..."
For Scouts who love everything about airplanes and flying, the day's ending couldn't have been more perfect.
According to Ed Allen, the most frequently heard comment after AirCamp 2005 was, "When are we going to have the next one?"
Contributing editor Suzanne Wilson lives in Joplin, Mo.
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