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Aviation and space enthusiasts in the metro area may have been to the Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum — which boasts a collection of aircraft housed in a hangar at the former Lowry Air Force Base grounds in Denver — but they're about to get a whole new experience.
The Wings Over the Rockies nonprofit, which offers educational and entertainment experiences centered around aerospace, is opening its new Exploration of Flight campus this summer. The nonprofit's second location will be an expansive campus that offers interactive exhibits and possibly even flying in planes with pilots. And it'll be housed at Centennial Airport, one of the nation's busiest general aviation airports.
It's a place where people can come together and not only have fun, but solve a looming problem in the industry.
“In aerospace in general, there's a huge lack of qualified personnel,” said Ben Theune, the nonprofit's director of marketing. “Boeing estimates that over the next 18 years, in the aviation industry alone, 2 million workers will need to fill pilot gaps, aircraft-maintenance gaps, engineering, air-traffic control — the whole bit.”
The new campus aims to create a model that can be duplicated at other air centers, Theune said.
“We really want to get young people excited about flight, whether that's aviation or space,” Theune added.
The Exploration of Flight campus — which the nonprofit calls unique to the nation — will house the Boeing Blue Sky Aviation Gallery and the Ozmen Black Sky Space Gallery. The aviation gallery will be a 19,000-square-foot hangar, and in 2019, the space gallery will be finished, based around “cutting-edge space technology and concepts,” the nonprofit's website said.
“You'll learn about the technology of rockets, what (NASA is) doing currently,” Theune said.
The aviation gallery, expected to open this summer, will offer visitors exhibits, a flight simulator and even the chance to experience flight itself. The details of the program for being flown around by pilots are still being worked out, Theune said.
Visitors will also be able to tour Centennial Airport and witness live takeoffs and landings.
Other parts of Wings Over the Rockies' 15-acre property at Centennial Airport may be taken up by an institution of higher education, an out-of-state charter school or a flight school, Theune said.
The nonprofit is in talks for those options, which would further its goal of making the campus “an exploration point for aerospace in Colorado,” Theune said.
The new campus comes after more than a decade of planning and fundraising, a news release by the nonprofit said. Wings Over the Rockies is one of the only air and space museums in the nation to hold two locations, according to Theune. The full campus, once completed, will focus on bringing together public, private and educational elements to "solve the shortage of pilots, flight attendants, mechanics and more. This model hasn’t been utilized anywhere else in the country," Theune said.
“Our air and space museum in Lowry will concentrate on the past, while the Exploration of Flight campus at Centennial Airport will focus on the present and future,” said John Barry, Wings Over the Rockies president and CEO, in the news release.
The new campus is also expected to familiarize visitors more with Centennial Airport, which sits in unincorporated Arapahoe County just south of the City of Centennial and extends south into Douglas County. The airport's name predates the city's.
“We want to explain how (the airport) works,” said Theune, adding that visitors can walk around, talk to pilots, do pre-flight checks and other experience-based activities.
It's an addition the airport is welcoming.
“We've always been very big fans of Wings Over the Rockies,” said Deborah Grigsby Smith, the airport's public information officer. “And I think we are, probably, just as excited about the Boeing Blue Sky Aviation Gallery as they are. The new facility, when open, will be the perfect gathering place for aviation and aerospace lovers, of all ages — and its close proximity to the airport will afford visitors an opportunity to see general aviation at work in the community.”
For more information about the Boeing Blue Sky Gallery opening or the Exploration of Flight Center as a whole, visit ExplorationOfFlight.org.
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