Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Flights of Fancy

By: Judi Stuart
Port Discover - Visitor Services Manager

Flights of Fancy

When you have an outrageous dream that is not likely to happen, you call it a “flight of fancy.” It seems that anything dealing with flight has always existed as somewhat of a dream for humans. Even though mankind has gone to the moon, that idea is incomprehensible to some who refuse to believe that it happened.

Our area was tied in with the dream of flight from the very beginning when the Wright brothers passed through Elizabeth City and acquired materials to take with them to Kitty Hawk for their grand experiment. As time has passed, there have been many events and accomplishments connected to flight that were tied to the Albemarle Area.

When my husband was a little boy, huge blimps from the Naval Base in Weeksville flew over his home while he was playing in the yard. The shadow and hum of the low flying air ships creeping over his head would terrify him, and he’d run inside for cover. The sight of the floating giants was a part of daily life in those days.

The base eventually closed, but we proudly still have the U.S. Coast Guard Base which has a long list of accomplishments. You can still go see the massive hangar where the vessels were housed. Sadly, in August 1995 a spark from a welder’s torch created the fire that destroyed one of the hangars which had been the largest wooden structure in the world.

In the past few years, College of The Albemarle and Elizabeth City State University have developed aviation programs that have great promise of expanding opportunities for our area. As the interest in aviation grows, educators at all levels are responding.

Last year Port Discover acquired a grant from Piedmont Natural Gas Foundation for an aviation science exhibit and series of programs called “Getting Off the Ground” which is slated to open in September. Some of the highlights will be a control tower, interactive kits, discovery of aviation occupations, a hot seat simulator, and a paper airplane hangar. An advisory board with members from COA, ECSU, Albemarle Area Economic Development Commission, and USCG are helping with all aspects of the new exhibit’s creation.

The Piedmont Natural Gas grant allowed Port Discover to sponsor a workshop conducted by the Civil Air Patrol for Pasquotank County middle school teachers. Teachers were given materials and lesson plans to use in their classrooms next year as well as a stipend. They are committed to incorporating aviation in a variety of disciplines.

In the fall, seven local families will be able to win a flight over coastal NC. Look out for more information on how to participate in Family Flight Night through Port Discover.

“Getting Off the Ground” will be another large step in the center’s mission to enhance the public’s understanding and enjoyment of science through interactive and engaging exhibits. Students and adults alike will find information and inspiration for their dreams of one day having a career in aviation or developing an interest in flying.
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