Change awaits summer Junior Test Pilot program

Isaac Velez, 11, practices his stealth detecting skills while participating in the Junior Test Pilot Program being offered at Blackbird Airpark in Palmdale last summer. For 2020, the summer program will be 100 percent online. (Photographs by Evelyn Kristo)

June 2020 would have marked the fourth consecutive year that the Air Force Flight Test Museum presented the Junior Test Pilot Summer Program for students onsite at Blackbird Airpark and Joe Davies Heritage Airpark on East Avenue P in Palmdale, Calif., where about 20 military aircraft are on display.

However, the fate of that STEM-oriented program, based on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics remained somewhat uncertain this summer because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has been fluctuating in the number of people infected or deceased as reported daily ever since the first known case of that virus occurred in January, spreading quickly to all 50 states by March.

This summer the program will be presented remotely, June 10-July 25, enabling students to participate over a computer from seclusion in their home, while complying with social distancing requirements.
The program is free, but registration is required. Register at

The program is geared toward 3rd through fifth graders, but any student interested in aerospace, flight test, engineering or airplanes are encouraged to attend both the online learning modules and live events.

“Right now, I am working to create the online summer program,” stated Lisa Brown, the volunteer Director of Education for the Edwards’ Flight Test Museum Foundation, the nonprofit organization that implemented the program and raises money to fund it.

“I am a curriculum and instructional designer. I developed the program so anyone who wanted to learn about the STEM principles at work in flight test could,” Brown said.

“All of the modules are based on an airplane or system developed at the complex of Edwards Air Force Base.”

Typically, the summer program consisted of educational tours of the airports where students learned to “think like an engineer” and analyze the parts of an aircraft and their function. Sessions included scavenger hunts and hands-on STEM activities.

“Over the course of eight lessons, four on the first week and four on the next week, we (covered) the basic STEM principles in creating stealthy aircraft, supersonic engines, and the effects of altitude on a plane and a body.”

The summer program takes place over eight weeks, providing a total of four two-week sessions. It is available to the public for two of the four sessions.

Palmdale School District and Eastside Union School District each have one session reserved for their summer programs.

“It has been very successful, and we have been so happy to be able to teach so many of the Antelope Valley’s children to ‘think like an engineer,’” Brown said.

Participation numbers have varied during summer sessions, but according to Brown, an average of 25children a day attend the classes.

The first summer more than 1,000 children worldwide participated, physically attending the classes, but because program planners had not initiated a registration process “anyone could come on any day,” she said. That resulted in some overcrowded sessions.

“We learned from that and in year two we set up registration for the two-week sessions. Now we have approximately 250 students over the summer.”

Students in the Junior Test Pilot Summer Program sponsored by the Flight Test Historical Foundation take a tour of the Joe Davies Heritage Airpark in Palmdale last year. For 2020, the summer program will be 100 percent online. (Photograph by Evelyn Kristo)

The impetus behind this program focuses strongly on careers, making guest speakers an important element of the daily activities. They typically work at some level in the aerospace industry and they tell students about their job, the education level needed and their career path.

Speakers careers ranged from pilots and engineers to mechanics, machine shop staff and IT personnel.

One concept that students learned in Summer 2019 was what keeps airplanes up. Other topics included Mach Speed, Payload and Jet Engines, etc.

Given this year’s situation with COVID-19 posing a threat to everyone, Brown said program planners “looked for guidance” from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. “They are not predicting right now what the future holds. We have determined that we don’t have the resources to safely run the program” for students at the airpark sites.

Ironically, Brown said, Palmdale School District “generously donated two classrooms to the Foundation to help accommodate students more comfortably this summer. Our Chairman of the Board, Art Thompson, just arranged and coordinated the installation in March as the state was shutting down and sheltering in place.”

With the program going forth online, virtual interviews and presentations will be conducted with guest speakers and a virtual tour will be developed to simulate tours that students went on in the past.
Students can take a survey in place of a scavenger hunt and earn a digital badge rather than the badges received each day in prior summers.

Planners are also considering the possibility of bringing the online version of the Junior Test Pilot Program to school districts that embark on a summer program of their own.

The Air Force Flight Test Museum also offers a year-round online Junior Test Pilot curriculum.

“The year-round program is an online Junior Test Pilot School that is open to the public and free,” Brown noted.

Brown said that she developed the curriculum with input from test pilots and flight engineers associated with the planes featured in the program sessions.

The mission of STEM is to promote interest and generate excitement for K-12 students in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics through educational outreach about flight test, aerospace and Edwards Air Force Base, according to the website

To achieve that goal, the Air Force Flight Test Museum is committed to providing open-access educational resources in STEM subjects for teachers, students and families so that they can understand the significance of STEM in aerospace and flight test procedures.

Brown said there will be continual updates regarding the status of this summer’s Junior Test Pilot Program on the website under the Education link.

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