Kentucky spurring innovation through aerospace education

October 7, 2013 

  • At issue: Sept. 16 commentary by George Ward, "Sequester stymies research, services; federal grants crucial in funding innovations that strengthen Ky."

I am inspired by the call for more innovation in the op-ed by George Ward, executive director of Coldstream Research Campus, as well as in an earlier column by University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto.

One of the inspiring innovations of the past 110 years is man's ability to fly in a motorized contraption called an aero-plane of his own design and construction. The innovations and spinoffs, which include man's exploration into space, are mind boggling.

Today the industry that provides the largest employment in Kenticky is aviation — over 100,000 jobs and a $10 billion to Kentucky's economy. Kentucky can proudly claim to have more youngsters studying aviation and aerospace than any other state in these United States.

Children can become exposed to aviation through the education programs at the Aviation Museum of Kentucky. They can begin serious study of aviation and experience flight at the age of 10.

At the conclusion of this past summer's program, the museum had exposed 5,000 children to the wonders and fascination of aviation since beginning the program in 1996.

Through the hard work of Tim Smith, science teacher at Frankfort High School, Kentucky now has 23 high schools with aviation as a science program, beginning with freshmen through seniors. The Kentucky Institute for Aerospace Education, now the Institute for Aerospace Education, started with one high school in 2010. There will be two more high schools added to the program next spring, and the new Fayette County STEAM high school at UK will add the program in the 2014 fall semester.

Peter J. Bunce, president of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, recently stated at the Kentucky Aviation Association conference that Kentucky is doing more for STEM education and aviation than any other state because of the institute.

Couple that with the Eastern Kentucky Aviation Professional Pilots program (No. 1 in the nation), Morehead State University Aerospace program, now one of the best in the country, the UK-NASA program, Somerset Vocational/Technical Aviation Mechanics program, Embry Riddle University program in Louisville, and Jefferson Community College Aviation Mechanics program, and you have a whole lot of youngsters getting a great education. Kentucky State University is planning an air-traffic controllers program.

Bob Minter, Southern regional representative of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, after his recent visit to Kentucky, wrote in their national publication that the Kentucky slogan of "Unbridled Sprit" not only refers to the making of bourbon, but the unbridled sprit of a bunch of deeply dedicated educators and volunteers committed to the excellence of education through aviation.

Minter also noted that there is no competition between institutions or programs and that they feed each other with the sole goal of a better education for young people of Kentucky.

These programs cover a huge scope of skills and knowledge these youngsters need to be successful in any endeavor they want to pursue for their life's work. Education is key to the prosperity and health of the citizens of this commonwealth.

Former UK president Lee Todd used to say if UK could be a Top 20 research university, the commonwealth could reduce its health care cost by 15 percent. That is almost $1 billion.


At issue: Sept. 16 commentary by George Ward, "Sequester stymies research, services; federal grants crucial in funding innovations that strengthen Ky."

Robert Riggs is a board member of the Institute for Aerospace Education and on the board of the Aviation Museum of Kentucky.

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