GRAND FORKS — From paper planes to flight simulators and space suits, UND’s aerospace buildings were jam-packed Saturday with people getting a behind-the-scenes look — and hands-on experience — with the equipment that takes UND students in the sky and beyond.
Hundreds of children and their families toured the buildings of the John D. Odegard School of Aerospace and Atmospheric Sciences Saturday morning as part of UND’s fourth Community Aerospace Day.
Renee Hendrickson of Grand Forks attended the event with her family. She tried out a virtual reality flight simulator — with her feet firmly planted on the ground — with the help of Kyle Weller, head of virtual reality.
“I’m probably going to crash,” she said, behind high-tech headphones, then exclaimed “Oh my god!” when she took over.
Weller said, “You fly the same plane the Blue Angels fly.”
Afterwards, a smiling Hendrickson said the experience was disorienting, but “very cool”.
Similar scenes of first-hand experience unfolded in aerospace buildings. In a classroom, a volunteer instructor demonstrated a static electricity device that gave people a mind-blowing experience. They might discharge this electricity by giving themselves a little zap or by transferring this jolt to their friends or parents. Many did the latter, prompting surprised laughs and smiles.
In another classroom, young children made paper airplanes and sent them flying through hoops set up around the room. Dozens of volunteers, professors and students, gave instructions and explained how things work, from trying on part of a spacesuit to air traffic control. Children and their parents lined up to be on a blue screen to experience being a TV weatherman and gave the go-ahead to land for a virtual plane.
People could enter any of the aerospace buildings and they were given a “passport” which they could have stamped when checking in at different locations. After doing the tour, they could show this passport for a chance to win a prize. A shuttle was also available to take people to Grand Forks International Airport, where several planes were on display and where they could take a look at flight operations.
Community Aerospace Day has been an annual event on campus since 2018. The event did not take place in 2021 due to the pandemic. It has already attracted up to 3,000 people, although Robert Kraus, dean of aerospace science, said this year’s event generated enough buzz that the number of people in attendance could eclipse that mark.
Victoria Casement, an air traffic control associate, experienced Community Aerospace Day as a student and now as an instructor. Operating a virtual air traffic control tower, she said it was exciting to help people use equipment they wouldn’t normally be able to see.
“Telling planes where to go was really cool for a lot of people,” she said.
Elizabeth Bjerke, associate dean of aerospace, previously told UND Today that she was looking forward to bringing the event back in early April. It was originally scheduled for February, but was pushed back so conditions surrounding the coronavirus pandemic could be monitored.
“I like to think of this day as a pop-up science museum that we can bring to the community, hopefully for the excitement of people of all ages,” she said.
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