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Engineering Grad Pays It Forward to Young Aeronautic Enthusiasts
Once a year for 15 weeks, children in the Dayton area learn how to read mechanical drawings, build a model plane and study the principles of flight. Thanks to College of Engineering grad Dale Whitford, this program has led three of these young amateur engineers to leading aeronautical careers.
It’s not often that a kid can invite friends and family to an Air Show featuring his or her own airplane in flight. But that’s what happens at the end of College of Engineering grad Dale Whitford’s 15-week Model Airplane Building and Flying Program, open to any child in grades 4 to 12.
After 41 years of a remarkable career at the University of Dayton Research Institute, Whitford’s UC co-op experience inspired him to launch his aeronautics education program for youth. For the past fifteen years in a church gymnasium, Whitford and his team of volunteers have taught approximately 600 children about flight and engineering through hands-on weekly classes. Once a year for 15 weeks, children representing 15 different schools in the Dayton area learn how to read mechanical drawings, build a model plane, and study the principles of flight. The program culminates in a final Air Show, where kids fly their miniature aircraft in front of an audience.
According to Whitford, “When we first got married, my wife was uneasy about my flying, so I continued my hobby of model building from childhood. I taught my two young sons to build models, and eventually my grandchildren, and then some other kids. In 1998, our church asked the congregation for ideas for uses of the gym other than athletics. I suggested the model building program to seed engineering interest in kids, and in September of that year I recruited my first class of 23 kids. The church loves it, the kids and volunteers love it, and I’ve never looked back.”
Whitford’s remarkable career and retirement followed a unique college recruitment experience. When the aspiring aeronautical engineer spoke to the dean of Engineering at the University of Tulsa, he told the young Whitford he belonged in a more impressive program than what Tulsa had to offer –the engineering school at the University of Cincinnati. And so it was that yet sight unseen, a mere three weeks after ending his Navy tour, Whitford walked on to UC’s campus.
After graduating from UC in the spring of 1951, Whitford married his (now) wife Sylvia the following day. With 13 job offers to choose from, Whitford accepted a full-time position at a small engineering firm in New Jersey. After six months, Whitford’s last supervisor at Wright Field contacted him and said he had recommended Whitford to University of Dayton officials for employment on a new government-sponsored research project that had been awarded to the University of Dayton. Whitford and four other engineers launched Project Delta, a nuclear weapons testing project where he was involved in testing the effects of nuclear explosions on military aircraft.
These days, in addition to teaching children aerospace techniques, Whitford, the perennial educator, also instructs at the University of Dayton’s Lifelong Learning Institute. Whitford is also a published author on a variety of topics, including nuclear research, the Wright Brothers and jet engine history.
At least three of the Model Airplane Building and Flying Program graduates have gone on to pursue successful engineering careers, two of which attended the University of Cincinnati. UC President Gregory Williams successfully nominated Whitford for a “Co-Op Hall of Fame” award in 2011 by WACE (Advancing Cooperative and Work-Integrated Education), an honor that the dedicated UC alum considers a favorite lifetime achievement.
“I consider myself lucky to have known so early on what I wanted for a career when I grew up and then to have had so many opportunities to make that dream a reality,” Whitford SAID. “For me, the greatest satisfaction in leading the youth flying program is seeing that same spark of interest in the kids.”