Middle Georgia State’s Sky Camp gives youths a chance to soar

EASTMAN -- As Alex Justice hovered 600 feet over Dodge County, he summed up the experience with about the highest praise a 12-year-old can offer.

“This is very cool,” he said Thursday through his headset in the Robinson R44 helicopter flown by Zac O’Bryan.

He was among 45 youths participating in Sky Camp, the annual summer camp of Middle Georgia State University’s School of Aviation. The three-day event culminated Thursday with airplane and helicopter rides for the participants. They later fired off rockets that they designed themselves.

Earlier in the week, campers launched a high-altitude weather balloon that reached 105,000 feet, or nearly 20 miles, which was a camp record. The balloon parachuted back down to land about 30 miles away at a chicken farm in Rochelle, retrieved with the help of a Georgia State Patrol helicopter and a global positioning system tracker.

The balloon was mounted with a camera and a “minion” figure clad in a MGSU shirt. The camera got a clear shot of the minion hovering in the edge of outer space.

Students also got to try out the school’s flight simulator and go into the control tower.

Michael Newton, the school’s chief helicopter pilot, is coordinator of the camp. He said a few camp participants have gone on to become students at the school, but that’s not really the intent.

“It’s just kind of a community service outreach,” Newton said.

On Thursday, those in the camp for their first or second time went up in a plane.

Because the school has more planes than helicopters, only those who are in their third year went up in the helicopter. In both cases the campers were given a chance at the controls.

“Most of them are real skittish of it,” Newton said.

Alex, from Buford, was at the camp with his grandfather, Steve Justice, who is the director of the Georgia Department of Economic Development’s Center of Innovation for Aerospace.

He said the camp is a good way to introduce youths to aviation careers.

“You’ve got to get kids interested in being in aviation and aerospace, and programs like this are a big part of that, just getting kids excited about aerospace and aviation,” he said.

Barrett Nardi, 10, of Eastman, went up in one of the planes Thursday and got a chance at flying it. Back on the ground, he gave the school’s flight simulator a try, which he successfully landed, although not exactly in smooth fashion.

“It wasn’t as easy as the real thing,” he said of the simulator. “But it was still a lot of fun.”

To contact writer Wayne Crenshaw, call 256-9725.