SANTA MONICA : Air Museum Lets Youths Take Controls

Nine-hundred Westside schoolchildren this week flew a helicopter, built gliders and saw a pterodactyl--all before lunch.

Santa Monica's Museum of Flying invited the grade-school students to the grand opening of an 8,000-square-foot interactive learning area in which hands-on exhibits make fantasy become reality. Almost.

The new attraction is designed to offer instruction in the principles of aviation.

Pupils from the Santa Monica/Malibu Unified School District took the controls in a helicopter exhibit, made balsa-wood gliders, and observed planes taking off and landing at the Santa Monica Airport, which is next to the museum at 2772 Donald Douglas Loop off Ocean Park Boulevard.

"We want kids to understand the concepts behind flight without having to go through a lot of training in technical terms," said Pamela Hall, the museum's director of children's education. "Big words will just make them tune out, but actually taking the controls is something they can relate to."

The museum, which receives donations and foundation support, paid for the children's bus trip to the museum.

The ceiling above the new area is dominated by mounted, life-size models of airplanes and a giant replica of a pterodactyl with a 36-foot wingspan.

Timothy Brady, a 9-year-old at John Muir Elementary School in Santa Monica, liked the real-life cockpit display the best. "It feels like you're flying in a real one," he said.

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