Space Camp’s done wonders for Huntsville. Could Air Camp do that for Dayton?

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The third largest city in Alabama might not seem like the type of place that kids dream of spending their summers.

But Huntsville is home to Space Camp, where children work as teams on simulated missions to the stars and train like astronauts in settings that feel and look out-of-this-world.

Though it may not be in the same universe, Dayton has Air Camp, where youth gets hands-on learning at aviation sites across the region and even get to steer a plane as a student pilot.

Just as Huntsville has become synonymous with Space Camp, Dayton in time could become famous for Air Camp if marketed correctly by the community, said Vince Russo, president and co-founder of Air Camp Inc.

“Ninety percent of people I talk to have heard of Space Camp, Huntsville, Ala.,” Russo said. “Some day, when we say Air Camp, Dayton, Ohio, we are going to get the same reaction.”

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Space Camp is a major national attraction. Many game shows on Nickelodeon give prizes of trips to Space Camp.

Campers travel from all over the world to attend.

Russo said he believes that Dayton can capitalize as much on Air Camp as Huntsville has on Space Camp.

The city, he said, could promote the programs on its website. He said there could be coordinated efforts to spread the word to put Dayton in the same with Air Camp.

Dayton City Commissioner Matt Joseph, after hearing from Russo, requested the city’s public relations staff to explore ways to work with Air Camp.

Space Camp, located at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center, has done wonders for promoting Huntsville, and the center is the top paid attraction in the state, said Kristen Pepper, marketing manager at the Huntsville/Madison County Convention & Visitors Bureau.

“It certainly has set us apart as a travel destination,” she said. “I would say it’s definitely put us on the map.”

Dayton, the birthplace of aviation, is home to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force and the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park.

Air Camp is another way that aviation is part of Dayton’s identity, and the community needs to figure out how to best weave together all of its flight-related activities and attractions, said Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley.

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Air Camp has grown from one camp in its first year in 2010 to 14 camps this year. There were seven in 2017.

There are three types of camps, including resident camp for students in middle school. They stay at student dorms and have five and a half days of activities.

The resident program has students from 30 states.

“We want to increase that number of 14 (camps) … because we have way more students applying than we can accomodate,” Russo said.

Campers visit a variety of aviation-related programs and places, including National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, Boonshoft Museum of Discovery, Dayton International Airport, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Calamityville and local colleges.

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