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UND’s Aerospace Community Day brings out the crowd

It previously has drawn as many as 3,000 people, though Robert Kraus, dean of Aerospace Sciences, said this year’s event has drawn enough buzz that the number of people in attendance might eclipse that mark.

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Renee Hendrickson tries out a virtual reality flight simulator, as Kyle Weller, virtual reality manager, helps out at UND's Aerospace Community Day, on Saturday, April 2,
Adam Kurtz / Grand Forks Herald

GRAND FORKS – From paper airplanes to flight simulators and spacesuits, UND’s Aerospace buildings were jam packed Saturday with people getting a behind the scenes look — and hands-on experience — with the equipment that takes UND students to the sky and beyond.

Hundreds of children and their families toured the John D. Odegard School of Aerospace and Atmospheric Sciences buildings Saturday morning, as part of UND’s fourth Aerospace Community Day.

Renee Hendrickson, of Grand Forks, attended the event with her family. She tried out a virtual reality flight simulator — her feet firmly on the ground — with the help of Kyle Weller, virtual reality manager.

“I’ll probably crash,” she said, from behind a high-tech headset, then exclaimed “Oh my god!” when she took the controls.

Weller said: “You're flying the same plane the Blue Angels fly.”

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Afterward, Hendrickson, smiling, said the experience was disorienting, but “very cool.”

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Similar scenes of first hand experience played out across the aerospace buildings. In one classroom, a volunteer instructor demonstrated a static electricity device that gave people an actual hair-raising experience. They could discharge that electricity by giving themselves a small zap, or transferring that jolt to their friends or parents. Many did the latter, eliciting laughter and surprised smiles.

In another classroom, small children made paper airplanes and sent them flying through hoops set up about the room. Dozens of volunteers, both professors and students, gave directions and explained how things function, from trying on a portion of a space suit, to air traffic control. Kids and their parents lined up to be on a blue screen in order to experience being a TV meteorologist, and gave the OK to land for a virtual aircraft.

People could enter any of the aerospace buildings and they received a “passport” they could get stamped, when they checked in at different locations. After making the rounds, they could show that passport for a chance at a prize. A shuttle was also available to take people to Grand Forks International Airport, where multiple aircraft were on display, and where they could take a peek at flight operations.

Aerospace Community Day has been an annual event on campus since 2018. The event wasn’t held in 2021 due to the pandemic. It previously has drawn as many as 3,000 people, though Robert Kraus, dean of Aerospace Sciences, said this year’s event has drawn enough buzz that the number of people in attendance might eclipse that mark.

Victoria Casement, air traffic control associate, has experienced Aerospace Community Day as a student, and now as an instructor. Operating a virtual air traffic control tower, she said it is interesting helping people use equipment they wouldn’t normally be able to see.

“Telling the planes where to go was really cool for a lot of people,” she said.

Elizabeth Bjerke, associate aerospace dean, previously told UND Today she was looking forward to bringing the event back in early April. It was originally set for February, but was pushed back so conditions surrounding the coronavirus pandemic could be monitored.

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“I love to think of this day as a pop-up science museum that we are able to bring to the community, hopefully, to the excitement of people of all ages,” she said.

Adam Kurtz is the community editor for the Grand Forks Herald. He covers higher education and other topics in Grand Forks County and the city.

Kurtz joined the Herald in July 2019. He covered business and county government topics before covering higher education and some military topics.

Tips and story ideas are welcome. Get in touch with him at akurtz@gfherald.com, or DM at @ByAdamKurtz.

Desk: 701-780-1110
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