USC-Salk Aviation Take Flight! Camp


Thirty-two students in sixth, seventh, and eighth grades at Colleton County Middle School soared to high heights when they attended the 2-day 2024 Aviation Take Flight! Camp sponsored by USC-Salkehatchie (USC-Salk), Tuskegee Airmen, Boeing, and Colleton County Middle School District.  Tracey Beach was the camp coordinator for USC-Salk, and Edward Williams, the director of the Colleton County School District robotics program and a technology teacher, coordinated the event at the Colleton County Middle School.

On Wednesday, April 24, Tracey Beach welcomed the students to camp when they arrived at the Lowcountry Regional Airport, the largest regional airport in the state.  She encouraged the students to learn about aviation, science, and opportunities to use those skills in the low country.  

Bert Duffie, manager of the Lowcountry Regional Airport, explained the importance of the Tuskegee Airmen monument on the airport grounds.  He led the students on a tour of the building.  When he took them into the conference room, he pointed out historical pictures featuring the Red Tails plane and the airport map.  The students toured the pilots’ lounge before going onto the tarmac to watch both private planes and a jet take off.  A Federal Aviation Administrations (FAA) team was also at the airport making certain that the automatic instrument landing system, a program that takes control of the aircraft’s approach and landing using autopilot, was working correctly.  In addition, Mr. Duffie pointed out that the Goodyear blimp had landed on the edge of the airfield; the blimp comes to Walterboro several times a year on their way to southeastern events. 

Eric Harris, a member of the local chapter of the Tuskegee Members and also an employee of Boeing, told the students the story of the heroic Tuskegee Airmen who fought in World War II; the African-American pilots trained at the Walterboro Army Airfield which is now known as the Lowcountry Regional Airport.  The Tuskegee Airmen monument at the airport is located on the grounds where dozens of the soldiers trained for combat and lived before being deployed overseas to serve as escort fighter groups.  The soldiers were nicknamed the Red Tails because their planes’ tails were painted a bright red.

Next the students traveled to USC-Salk in Walterboro to learn and launch bottle rockets.  After attaching the cardboard wings to the plastic bottles, the students used air pumps to launch their rockets.  Many of the students’ bottle rockets flew to the tops of the trees.  Often they stopped their activities to watch the planes whose flight paths went directly above USC-Salk.

After a hot lunch provided by USC-Salk, the students worked in teams to measure the distance, height, and width of the obstacle course through which their drones would have to fly.  The students learned coding and then attempted to fly drones across the gym floor.  The teams all did well.

On Thursday, April 25, the students traveled to Boeing in Charleston, South Carolina.  Frank Hatten, Program Manager and Education Relations Specialist , escorted the students to the classroom where he discussed job opportunities at Boeing.  He pointed out that a sixteen-year-old student at Thunderbolt Career and Technology Center trained in the apprentice program to become a painter.  In return, Boeing paid for his education at the Citadel where he earned his chemical engineer degree.  The young man still works at the company.  He encouraged the students to master skills that will enable them to work for the company.  Mr. Hatten said, “Let’s defy gravity and reach for new heights!”  The students watched videos about the assembly and interior designs of 3 types of planes; then they watched workers assembling 8 planes within the building.  The more than 7,800 employees work up to 18 months to design the plane, order parts, assemble the parts, and then paint the exterior.  He and his teammates explained several of the jobs available for the students to consider.   Devhani Jenkins, a middle school student, commented, “I liked watching the videos at Boeing and seeing how the airplanes worked.”  

Eric Harris, a Boeing employee who had talked to the students at the Tuskegee Airmen monument Wednesday, encouraged the students to do well.  He said, “It doesn’t matter where you start; it matters where you finish.” 

The students formed six groups with five members each to decide which of four paper airplanes they would choose depending upon lift, weight, drag, and thrust.  After choosing a pilot for each team, the pilots practiced flying the paper airplanes.  Then each team discussed ways to improve flight with large or small paper clips.  Finally each pilot competed at the flight line to determine which team had the best paper airplane. The Tigers won the competition because their airplane flew the farthest.  Meirav Dewangan was chosen as the pilot for the Tigers.  When asked how he felt when he achieved such an honor, he replied, “It felt great!  We had a small debate about who should be our pilot and it came down to two people.  We did Rock/Paper/Scissors, we did the best two out of three, and I won.  I felt pretty bad for the other person, and I offered to let him be the pilot, but he refused the offer because I won fair and square.” Mr. Hatten again encouraged the students to remember that learning skills at TCTC can enable them to get an apprenticeship at Boeing making $17.50 an hour as a junior in high school before beginning a full-time job upon graduation.

Sergeant Major Carl Konac, a loadmaster, met the bus at the entrance to the Charleston Air Force Base.  After a Chick-Fil-A meal provided by USC-Salk, students played foosball and ping pong, and several students tried to compete in doing pushups against a woman airman.  Sergeant Major Konac and his teammates described the importance of the C-17 airplane. Pilots train in California beginning with a flight simulator before actually flying a C-17.  They practice handling emergencies, refueling mid-flight, low altitude flying, and both regular and assault landings.  He explained that the average salary for a pilot is $117,000 with a 3-year commitment after training. In order to become a pilot, a candidate must have a college degree, be cleared medically, train for one year, attend flight school, and be a member of an operational squadron.  Any student interested in becoming a pilot was encouraged to begin the application process to attend the Air Force Academy.  Sergeant Major Konac emphasized that his job as a loadmaster was to equalize the weight in the cargo hold to ensure that the plane flew safely.  He showed the students pictured emphasizing that the cargo hold can be modified to carry equipment and/or passengers.  After the presentation, the students went outside to watch a K-9 demonstration in addition to exploring the fire trucks, a forklift, and an equipment trailer while commercial and private planes took off nearby from the Charleston International Airport. 

On the trip back to Walterboro the students discussed the experiences that they had during their 2-day Take Flight! Camp.  Mr. Williams encouraged them to pursue science fields that would help them to accomplish their dreams.  When asked to describe his favorite part of the trip, Keegan Ponte said, “We flew paper airplanes and saw the 8 Boeing planes.”  

When the students returned to camp, Mr. Ed Williams got the Tigers flight crew together to commend them for working well together before flying their plane the farthest.  He gave Meirav Dewanagan, the pilot, a gift certificate to Walmart.  

The Aviation Camp will be offered again next year.  Students are encouraged to participate.