160 Boy Scouts Earn First-Ever Aviation Merit Badges At Sea-Tac Airport

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by Ralph Nichols

Most residents of the Pacific Northwest would think that Boy Scouts participating in a day-long event to earn a merit badge on a mostly sunny Saturday in late October would be hiking in the Cascade Mountains or exploring the Puget Sound shoreline.

But such was not the case on Oct. 24, when 160 scouts packed classrooms at the Alaska Airlines Flight Operations Center in SeaTac and visited the company’s hangar at Sea-Tac International Airport for a close look at a Boeing 737-700 – inside and out.

The first Aviation Merit Badge day, sponsored by Alaska Airlines in partnership with the Chief Seattle Council of the Boy Scouts of America, was by all accounts an overwhelming success, with many more scouts wanting to participate than there was space to accommodate.

During the day, Boy Scouts were introduced not only to the dynamics of flight and the basics of flying an airplane, but also to airport management, flight operations, air traffic control, and careers in aviation.

Aviation Merit Badge day came about, said Brad Tilden, president of Alaska Airlines (and an Eagle Scout and Highline High School graduate), because “we love to support the Boy Scouts.”

But a golfing auction that the airline sponsored to support scouting wasn’t quite the thing since “there are not a lot of golfers here.” The merit badge idea surfaced as company officials looked for new ways to support the scouts.

“Most of us in aviation remember something that sparked our interest,” Tilden said. “We hope this merit badge event is the spark for some of these scouts. We hope we have fun and that the scouts learn something about aviation.”

Noting that he felt the “energy” while walking around the Flight Operations Center and observing the scouts, Tilden added that he would “love” to do another aviation merit badge day for scouts – perhaps expanded to include girls next time.

Pat Craven, director of development and marketing for the Chief Seattle Council, said the event – “a first for the Boy Scouts and a first for Alaska Airlines,” which he described as “a great friend and partner of scouting” – was “really unique.”

Craven called it “an overwhelming success. We allotted space for 140 scouts, then expanded it to 160, and we still had a waiting list. Alaska is already talking about doing another one next year.

“We’re so excited that Alaska has done this for Boy Scouts. It’s such an exceptional opportunity for them to get an introduction to aviation and aviation careers. They’re still running an airline today, yet they have so many volunteers here doing this.”

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2 Responses to “160 Boy Scouts Earn First-Ever Aviation Merit Badges At Sea-Tac Airport”
  1. This past summer I arranged for my 12 year old niece to have her first flight lesson. Mr. Tilden spoke of the spark that kindled an interest in aviation. The look on her little face as she took the controls and rolled into a left turn is one I will remember forever. Thanks to Alaska Airlines for making this program possible, and I hope that the next time they have a class, that they include girls. The more we expose girls beyond traditional careers, the more we expand their horizons.

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  2. Greg Fox says:

    I am glad to see the scouting program keeping up with the times (with merit badges in new fields).
    Scouting instills values in young men (and women) to help them better cope with an ever changing and challenging world. It is time and energy spent towards a better future for all of those involved.
    Congratulations to all the scouts that earned this new merit badge and may there be many more to come.

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