Aerospace takes FLIGHT at EdVenture

How do you inspire children to explore the wonder of flight?

That’s the question Marc Drews, director of education and partnerships for EdVenture, has been asking himself since 2014.

“We want to inspire that sense of wonder,” Drews explained. “Wonder inspires kids to ask questions and a joy of learning.”

The exhibit, aptly titled FLIGHT, opened to the public on July 15 and features a number of real pieces of aircraft for children to explore.

The Boeing 757 cockpit affixed to the side of the museum’s second floor is the most well-known feature, visible as you cross the Gervais Street Bridge from West Columbia to Columbia, but that’s not all the exhibit has to offer. Inside the 1,700 sq. ft. gallery, you’ll find Boeing 757 fuselage complete with first-class seating, simulators, a paper airplane making station and testing center, and a wind tunnel for kids to test the elements of flight with fabric wings.

“The idea is to see the power behind wind,” Drews said. “It was the wind that caused man to think ‘Hmm, how do birds stay up there?’ and discover flight.”

The four main questions the FLIGHT exhibit addresses are:

  • What are the forces of flight and how do they work?
  • Do you know the phenomenal impact aerospace has had on South Carolina’s economy?
  • What kind of jobs are available in aerospace?
  • Do you realize NASA’s impact on flight?

The exhibit started with an $890,000 grant from NASA in 2014. In 2015, Marc and his team began working with designers and researchers to create a prototype of the exhibit.

“As we discussed what we wanted visitors to be able to do after visiting and began crafting our message, the conversation leaned toward making sure visitors know the impact of aviation on South Carolina,” Drews said. “We also wanted people to better understand the incredible impact NASA has had on our lives.”

“This exhibit was designed specifically to link the excitement of flying to the career opportunities available throughout the sector,” explained Karen Coltrane, EdVenture president and CEO. “If we can get children to experience science as a fun subject with real world applications, we will have more people in the workforce pipeline in the future.”

Identifying ways to strengthen the talent pipeline in South Carolina is of particular interest to the South Carolina Council on Competitiveness, the organization behind SC Aerospace.

“A strong talent pipeline is important to ensuring that South Carolina and its citizens are equipped to compete in a global economy,” said Susie Shannon, president and CEO of the South Carolina Council on Competitiveness. “Introducing kids to career opportunities early on, particularly exciting ones like those in aerospace, will help support the industry cluster for years to come.”

In December 2015, Drews connected with SC Aerospace and then-director Deborah Cameron, and the SC Aerospace Education Working Group soon became advisors on the exhibit. The initial feedback from the working group made the team at EdVenture rethink their plan and scrap the original design to start from scratch.

“Everything’s an experiment,” Drews said. “When we scrapped the initial plan, we had to go back and tell our contact at NASA because of the grant. NASA didn’t bat an eye because that’s what research does, that’s what causes you to grow and become better.”

“We sought feedback from the South Carolina Council on Competitiveness’ SC Aerospace initiative and their education working group, and they had the same reaction we did,” Coltrane explained. “So we started working together to design the exhibit here and use their connections to source authentic airplane equipment.”

“Our goals never changed, only how we got there was,” Drews added.

The SC Aerospace Education Working Group was involved in an advisory capacity through the completion of the exhibit.

“It has been exciting to be part of the development of this exhibit,” said SC Aerospace Director Adrianne Beasley. “Seeing how kids are responding and getting interested in aerospace, knowing we had something to do with its development, has been a highlight of my time at the Council so far.”

One of the things that the education working group insisted on in the exhibit’s development was including real aerospace parts that kids could touch and feel.  

“I think the big ‘ah-ha!’ moment was when Dr. Ramy Harik from the University of South Carolina’s McNAIR Center remembered seeing a commercial airplane built into the side of a children’s museum he had visited in Lebanon,” Beasley explained. “Once that idea was on the table, the whole thing just took off.”

Coltrane herself picked the retired Boeing 757 cockpit from an air field “boneyard” in Tupelo, Mississippi.

A strong talent pipeline is important to ensuring that South Carolina and its citizens are equipped to compete in a global economy.” – Council President & CEO Susie Shannon

EdVenture has already lined up educators who teach elements of flight to work with other educators to provide professional learning opportunities for both pre-service and experienced teachers through the integrated use of NASA/STEM topics, resources and informal science. Other programs have included STEM- and flight-based programming for children and caregivers, after-school programs, camps and community events and festivals.

“We wanted to inspire kids’ natural interest in flight as a springboard for other programs,” Drews said.

In the first week, approximately 7,300 visitors toured the exhibit. On a Wednesday afternoon, children were spread throughout the exhibit engaging with all of the different elements. Some climbed into the seats of the cockpit, pushing buttons and pulling levers as if they were piloting the plane themselves, while others explored the wind tunnel or tested out the simulators to experience the feeling of flight. Other children were seated in the fuselage or were at tables reading with their parents or talking about how cool they thought the exhibit was.

There are plans to monitor visitor interaction with the space and how they move through the exhibit to further enhance the experience, Drews explained.

“In any exhibit, you begin with what you think and believe guests might be interested in,” Drews said. “It’s been interesting to watch kids approach the materials and the awe they have of being in the air.”

To learn more about the FLIGHT exhibit, visit