Airport Design Challenge "Meet The Creators"

In March 2020, the FAA Southwest Region was preparing to expand its Aviation and Space Education outreach program for the summer and asked Blair Hess, an Airport Division employee, to join the Regional Office team for a short-term detail where he would assist Program Analyst, Chuck Tackett with these presentations. Unfortunately, on the first day Blair joined the team, the FAA announced that due to COVID-19, all external events were being shut down. When Chuck told Blair the news, Blair proposed an idea to keep students engaged while they were home from school. Half-jokingly, he said, “well, I guess we can go home and build a game for the kids that uses Minecraft to teach them about aviation”.  

At first, they laughed at this idea but after discussing it in more detail, they began adc original conceptto sketch an outline for the game and within a few hours they created the initial Airport Design Challenge. The original intent of the program was to create a regional online event for local schools and students in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. However, within a few weeks, the game began to spread across the nation and then eventually to the entire world. In its initial pilot run, the Airport Design Challenge included over 500 students from across the United States and even a few from foreign countries. To date, within four iterations of the program, that number now totals over 7,000 students from all 50 US States, multiple US territories and 49 foreign countries.

Looking back, Blair and Chuck are as surprised as anyone at the success of this program and its ongoing impact. “In 2020, with the onset of the pandemic, we were just trying to create some activities to keep students interested in aviation,” said Chuck. “We had no idea the game would turn into a worldwide phenomenon.” Blair added “There is nothing that compares to seeing students having fun while learning about aviation. The response from parents and students alike has overwhelmingly been positive and I am glad we had a part in helping promote aviation careers to an entirely new audience”.   

Blair Hess headshotBlair Hess is an innovator, project manager, and aviation enthusiast with a passion for education. After years of experience in the military and civilian workforces, coupled with his extensive experience volunteering with youth through Parent Teacher Organizations, community sports, and Boy Scouts, Mr. Hess turned that experience into a professional focus on youth outreach.  He has hosted large-scale events, managed substantial projects, and loves to see positive results, especially when sharing his passion for education and aviation.  Through his professional associations and volunteer work, Mr. Hess continuously seeks new ways to promote aerospace career opportunities for new, diverse audiences of young people with an interest in the field.

Chuck Tackett headshotChuck Tackett is the External Operations Program Analyst for the FAA Southwest Region and is a huge proponent of Aviation and Space Education outreach.  As one of the co-creators of the Airport Design Challenge, he utilizes his background in education and program management to create an exciting and unique learning environment for students of all ages.  Mr. Tackett also has extensive experience in the entertainment industry through his parallel career in theatrical and musical performance and continually looks for new ways to reach today’s student audience.  

Last updated: Tuesday, August 1, 2023