Passion, dedication, and giving back to the community. These are the main things that really made Alaska Airlines Aviation Day shine. Since I have been running AirlineReporter, for almost eight years, I have met many people in the airline business and aviation. Almost all have a strong passion, but no matter where I travel and who I meet, it is hard to find people that are more dedicated than those who live and work in the Pacific Northwest.
We have deep roots in aviation here, and I think one prime example of this is Alaska Airlines’ Aviation Day. This yearly event, which is only open to formal youth groups, allows guests to experience and learn about aviation and potential careers in the field. I was invited to this year’s event, and although there were plenty of amazing things to see and do, I was more in awe of all the wonderful people who work hard to make this event happen.
WHAT IS ALASKA AIRLINES AVIATION DAY?
It is always interesting to ask people, “when did you fall in love with aviation?” Everyone seems to have a personal story on how their passion for aviation was born. I would imagine that 10 years from now, many who have participated in Aviation Day would say they discovered their passion during the event.
The special day has been going on for six years, and started with about 100 Boy Scouts, but now sees closer to 1,000 boys and girls who are a part of multiple groups, looking to learn about aviation.
Although Alaska Airlines, and other companies, are quite supportive of the event, it is more of a grassroots effort put on by their employees. About 500 volunteers took time out of their busy schedules to help plan, and run the event and in the end, they put on quite the show!
The youth that attend are able to do a select-a-quest, of sorts, in choosing what they want to see, hear, and do. For those who are engaged the answer is easy: all of it!
I had to keep telling myself this was for kids and so many times I wanted to look over to the youth around me and be like “this is so cool, am I right?” I (mostly) kept my cool. Okay, I rarely did, but how could I? I loved doing this as a 34-year-old and I couldn’t imagine how great this would have been 25 years ago.
AVIATION DAY: At Alaska’s Flight Operations Training Center
I started at Alaska’s Flight Operations Training Center and was asked what I wanted to see first: the flight simulators, of course! Alaska has six full simulators and there were pretty much two students at the controls, with a pilot there to help, non-stop.
It was inspiring seeing how enthusiastic the kids were about flying and learning how to control a 737. Some of the kids were locked in to land the plane as best that they could — others seemed more interested in finding the flight limits of the aircraft. Lucky for observers (aka me), the motion was not turned on in the simulators.
Next, we headed over to where flight crew train on different aspects of the cabin. Making our way through, we watched Alaska flight attendants and U.S .Air Marshals talk about, and demonstrate, how to restrain problem passengers. It was impressive how they were able to talk about some serious topics, yet in a fun and engaging way. The youth seemed to get a kick learning how to tie up their friends, pretending they were a poorly behaving passenger.
Then the visitors had the opportunity to go through a fake evacuation. They could take the stairs up into the 737 evacuation slide trainer and buckle in. I had a chance to do a cycle, and all the flight attendants were extremely friendly and had a fantastic way of making you feel comfortable, while pretending the plane was crashing.
When it was time to do so, passengers quickly lined up and take the emergency slide to waiting flight attendants. When asked if I would like to take a jump on the slide — yes please! I mean, I needed to do it for the story right?
Going hands-on is always fun, but guests also had the chance to listen to a number of aviation career presentations. There were aircraft engineers, airplane mechanics, FAA air traffic controllers, pilots, flight attendants, and more on hand to talk about their profession.
Once done at the training center, it was time to head over to the Alaska Maintenance Hangar. There were buses running to take students back and forth, but I was lucky enough to catch a ride with First Office Allen Cassino. He’s one of the fine folks that helps to manage the event, and I was excited to learn more about his motivation.
Captain Cassino explained how he grew up in a small town in Arizona and knew from an early age that he wanted to be a pilot. The problem was, he didn’t know anyone to mentor him or teach him how to get there.
He became noticeably excited talking about how he started helping out with the event early on and has loved seeing it grow. Not only for the number of youth that are coming in and learning about aviation, but all the people who have volunteered their time.
He was an Eagle Scout himself, so the event started with other Boy Scouts, helping them to earn their aviation merit badge. As other groups heard about this event and asked if they could join, Alaska kept saying yes; other organizations joined in and it has kept growing.
I was so much into our conversation that I hadn’t realized we already reached the hangar, so we started to make our way in.
AVIATION DAY: In Alaska Maintenance Hangar
The hangar offerred plenty more for youth to learn, touch, and experience. There were folks there from Galvin Flying, Rainier Flight School, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, University of Washington, University of North Dakota, Southern Illinois University, Central Washington University, Big Bend Community College, South Seattle College, Green River College, National Association of Rocketry, US Customs & Boarder Protection, Museum of Flight, various military recruiting booths, and more. It would be hard to walk away without having your aviation-related questions answered.
Some of the hands-on things allowed students to experience an aircraft pre-flight check, build gliders with Boeing (I regret not doing this one), take a tour of Alaska’s maintenance shop, learn how Alaska builds their mobile programs, find out about composite and other materials/methods on building aircraft, and much more.
There was quite a bit to do and not much time, so I made sure to head to the engine and APU. There, I learned things about how jet engines and APUs work that I did not understand before (yea, maybe it being explained for a 12yr old helped). I also got to hold a fan blade, worth about $11,000. Yea… they made sure I gave that one back before leaving!
Before heading outside, I ended up running into the CEO & President of Alaska Airlines, Brad Tilden. Now, AirlineReporter has given me a few opportunities to meet different celebrities, musicians and sports people. Honestly, I don’t get too excited seeing them (okay, a bit), but I get giddy (yet professional) when meeting with an airline executive. I was very much enjoying our chat, however, I ended up cutting our conversation short. What could do this? Hearing that the US Coast Guard HH-65 Dolphin was about to take off due to an emergency call.
With apologizes to Mr. Tilden and the group, I made my way outside to track down the Dolphin.
AVIATION DAY: On the Sea-Tac’s ramp
It’s never good when a US Coast Guard helicopter needs to leave from an event like this (due to an emergency), but that is the nature of their jobs. It was also a nice reminder that these aircraft serve a real purpose, outside of just looking cool.
As the helicopter got prepped and started up, it drew quite the crowd and became the center piece. There is nothing like hearing the start up of a helicopter (yea, yea, I held my phone the wrong way) and once warmed up, it taxied out to the runway and headed off on its mission.
My attention then turned to the aircraft behind me — it was hard to miss the US Air Force Boeing C-17 Globemaster III — it had quite the presence. Inside, there were quite a few guests, and other volunteers to answer any questions and show folks how things worked. If you had the time, they were also willing to give tours of the flight deck. No question, I would have wanted to go, but I needed to move on to the next military plane, which is based on a commercial airliner.
That plane was a Boeing C-40A Clipper, built off the 737-700.
I climbed on board and after checking out the cargo area up front, I made my way through the small passage (not really made for a guy my size) to the passenger area in the back of the plane. I then noticed the smell — this plane was new.
Thinking that this might be the 5000th 737 that was not delivered too long ago, I made my way back to the front and asked one of the crew. She smiled and pointed to the large banner that read that this was the 5000th 737. Not sure how I missed that one, but with a friendly “thanks” (and likely red cheeks from embarrassment), I headed to the rear of the plane again.
I was about to go out the rear doors, when I realized I hadn’t been to the flight deck. It was almost like this was the first time I had toured a 737. I made my way back to the front of the plane and had a chance to talk with the pilots for a bit. I got to learn about some of the differences flying the C-40A versus your standard 737 (spoiler: not much). During our conversation, it was cool seeing a father and son checking out all the controls.
Seeing the kids get tours of the cockpit was cool enough, but what really caught my attention was a young lady, who had her hand on the plane and just walking down the side. She wasn’t just one of the many around who only looked at a plane and think, “that’s cool,” but one who connects with the plane. I have been guilty, plenty of times, of connecting with a plane in a similar way and it shows a certain level of love. Certainly a young AvGeek.
On my way back to the hangar, something on the ground caught my eye — a small version of a 737. Small compared to a real 737, but rather large for an R/C plane. I was in a rush, so wasn’t able to stick around to watch it fly. However, due to curiosity, after the event I was able to track down the owner, meet back up again during one of his flights, and will be sharing that in a future story soon!
AVIATION DAY: Conclusion
No question I personally had a good time being around so many airplanes, hanging out in flight simulators, and taking tours of different types of aircraft. But that all pales in comparison to the passion that I saw coming from the people that helped out and the excitement that most of the youth expressed. Sure, there were quite a few young adults who were trying to act like they were too cool for that sort of stuff, but there always seemed to be something to make them crack and appreciate aviation.
It is amazing to see organizations, like Alaska Airlines, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, Boeing, and more put in so much time and energy into creating such an event. There are some truly wonderful AvGeeks out there looking to help build the next generation of AvGeeks.