Westheimer Airport Focuses on Youth Through Annual Aviation Festival
by Lindsay Cuomo
Careers in the aviation industry have become increasingly hidden to the public. Safety concerns have prompted new regulations, forcing pilots and air traffic controllers to operate behind locked doors. While that has brought a sense of security, it comes with a price.
“We have noticed a decline of kids interested in going into the industry,” said Lance Lamkin, OU Max Westheimer Airport administrator. “We want kids to get to see what is on the other side of that fence, to get kids excited about STEM and aviation.”
A recent study conducted by the Oklahoma Aeronautics Commission highlighted just how important the aviation industry is to Norman and to the entire state of Oklahoma.
“Our airport alone brings about $37.4 million a year,” Lamkin said. “We are proud to bring in that business, to be a home for commercial and private pilots and student pilots, and to be doing great things for the community, the university and aviation as a whole.”
Several years ago, the leadership at Norman’s OU Westheimer Airport decided to organize an event to help cultivate an awareness of the opportunities available in aviation. So, on Oct. 13, the airport will open its gates once again for its Annual Aviation Festival, giving a firsthand look at what happens on the runway and in the skies above Norman.
“Kids can get really up-close to the aircraft,” said Lamkin. “And families can see a full view of what goes on at an airport.”
Offering a fun atmosphere that highlights the connection between the airport and the Norman community, visitors can touch airplanes and helicopters outside on the tarmac.
They can talk with pilots and get a hands-on experience in the Sooner Flight Academy hangar filled with a variety of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) activity stations. The festival also offers a rare opportunity to see inside the control tower and see how the airport operates.
Drones have added a new twist to aviation and returning to this year’s festival, CORCS, the Central Oklahoma Radio Control Society, will provide unmanned aircraft demonstrations. A variety of first responders will be back again as well, highlighting their role in aviation, and the Marine Corps will operate a flight simulator.
“We like to give the community a full view of what goes on at an airport and how other organizations interact with what we do here,” Lamkin said. “The Oklahoma Highway Patrol will bring planes and helicopters, Norman Fire and SWAT will have their vehicles, OUPD will bring Ceasar, their bomb dog, to show how he helps keep the campus safe.”
Weather will have an important place at the festival as it does the industry as well.
“Weather and aviation go hand in hand,” Lamkin said. “Kids will be able to explore how weather impacts aircraft and see a NOAA Mobile Doppler Radar.”
The festival is open from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., rain or shine. Parking and admission are free.
Activities will take place throughout the day, and Lamkin said visitors should expect to spend about two hours exploring all the activities. Ozzie’s Diner will offer a “takeaway” lunch, consisting of a hotdog, chips and a drink and Kona Ice will be there, serving snow cones.
For more information about the festival, visit www.ou.edu/airport/events/festival, or keep up with the latest updates on the Max Westheimer Airport Facebook page. – BSM