"Top Gun" Pilot and Astronaut Touches Down at MMAC's ACE Camp
It's not every day that middle school students get to talk with the commander of a NASA space shuttle and a real Top Gun pilot.
So when students in Oklahoma City were surprised by "special guest" retired NASA astronaut and former Navy fighter pilot Scott D. Altman, all eyes were upon him.
Altman, who flew four space shuttle missions, spoke with students at two FAA-sponsored Aviation Career Education (ACE) camps in late June. He spoke about his NASA missions, which ranged from scientific studies, to the final shuttle servicing of the Hubble Space Telescope.
At the ACE camps, he engaged with the students, sharing his insights and experiences in astronomy and aviation. Altman even helped the kids build and launch homemade rockets - giving them a great story to tell if someone asks them what they did this summer!
Altman told the students he realized what an honor it was to fly into space on his first trip when he looked down at the earth and his hometown that had supported him as he pursued his dreams.
As the son of two teachers from a small town in Illinois, he told the students, "I hope you understand the value of education. Don't give up on your dreams; go after them. Throughout your life, you will be met with challenges," Altman said.
"Always focus on your main goals and use your education to overcome those challenges. You are the next generation, and your education will guide the creativity and innovation we need in the future," he said.
Prior to his time as an astronaut, Altman had a role flying an F-14 Tomcat in the 1986 movie Top Gun, when the Navy received a request to support the film's production. His piloting was featured throughout the movie, but his skills may be best remembered in two particular scenes - the tower fly-by scene and the rollover scene with the Soviet Mig28.
When asked about the scene where he flew close to the tower, he said, "It was incredible. Most Navy pilots don���t get to buzz an air traffic control tower, like was done in that movie. But since it was Hollywood, they wanted nine different takes!"
Adults may recognize his "gesture" in the Mig28 scene. When Altman rolled his F-14 over the Mig, one of his fingers was on-camera, directed at the Soviet pilots.
At these weeklong ACE camps, students participate in many activities. They learn about ballooning, unmanned aerial systems, rockets, and aviation as it relates to commercial, corporate and military aircraft. The students also get hands-on experience reading aeronautical charts, riveting sheet metal, building robots, and taxiing an aircraft. On the last day of camp, they learn about NASA and astronomy.
During the camp's graduation ceremony, former ACE camper Jacquelyn Harsha shared how she had participated in one of the Oklahoma City ACE camps several years ago and it shaped her interest in aviation. Harsha joined the Civil Air Patrol when she was twelve and worked her way up to her current rank of Cadet Captain. She recently earned a full scholarship in the U.S. Air Force ROTC program at Oklahoma State University, which she'll be attending in the fall.
"It's important to join everything you can, to get a taste of it," Harsha said. "There are inspirations for us all along the way."
For the 14th consecutive year, MMAC and the Metro Technology Center Aviation Campus partnered to host the program. The goal of the camp is to educate students about careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), with a focus on aviation and aerospace industries. Employees from MMAC and the Metro Tech volunteer their time to assist with this annual camp.
Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center Director Michelle Coppedge is a strong supporter of the ACE camps.
"We are so fortunate to have these vital partnerships that reinforce our ability to provide the next generation with ideas ��� encouraging curiosity and innovation, and inspiring our future generations to possess skills that revolve around STEM," she said.
The FAA's Aviation and Space Education (AVSED) program and the Oklahoma Engineering Foundation process the competitive applications for the Oklahoma City camps. Aviation is the second largest industry in Oklahoma, and the MMAC is the fourth largest employer in Oklahoma City.