DuPage Airport event helps students fly into the school year
For several glorious minutes on Tuesday, Gracie Perry got to imagine what it would be like to be a pilot.
The 9-year-old West Chicago girl had a wide smile on her face sitting in the cockpit of an airplane parked on the tarmac at the DuPage Airport in West Chicago.
When it was over, Gracie said it was the first time she sat in an aircraft.
"It was really fun," she said. "I loved it. I don't know how to explain it because it was so fun."
Gracie and hundreds of other students celebrated the start of the school year by having their own day at the airport.
The inaugural back-to-school event was sponsored by the DuPage Airport Authority and the city of West Chicago. Most of the students who participated attend West Chicago elementary and middle schools that are part of West Chicago Elementary District 33, Benjamin Elementary District 25 and St. Charles Unit District 303.
"This gives them an opportunity to come to the airport, see some equipment and airplanes and experience a little bit of aviation while they're out here," said David Bird, the authority's executive director.
In addition to sitting inside airplanes, the students had the opportunity to experience Civil Air Patrol flight simulators, climb onto airport fire rescue vehicles and snow removal equipment, and see a vintage Stearman aircraft and WGN-TV's helicopter. There also were tours of the Federal Aviation Administration control tower.
West Chicago Mayor Ruben Pineda said he loved the idea of having a fun and educational event for students before they go back to school.
"Giving them this opportunity to learn things that they might never have an opportunity to learn is pretty exciting," Pineda said. "I'm glad the airport was able to do this."
Bird said one goal of the event is to inspire some of the students to someday consider careers in aviation.
"There's a lot of different components to aviation, whether it's on the administration side or the maintenance side or the flying side," Bird said. "So this is an opportunity to pique some interest and, hopefully, make aviation cool."
Roughly 200 students were registered for the event and another 200 adults also were invited.
West Chicago resident Veronica Mackintos said she decided to go after her three children insisted she bring them.
Her 13-year-old son, Efren, said he wanted to come because his family never visited the airport before.
"We pass by here a lot of times," Efren said. "I think it's pretty cool."