Oakland based Pilot, Peter Vanpelt, has been inspiring students both locally and abroad for the past five years as an Adopt-A-Pilot Ambassador. The Adopt-A-Pilot program allows Pilots to volunteer their time by visiting classrooms and mentoring students by sharing their knowledge of aviation.
Before joining the Southwest Family, Peter spent 25 years serving in the Air Force and was stationed Germany. As an Adopt-A-Pilot Ambassador, his first “adoption” was by his son’s second-grade class at Ramstein Elementary School on the Air Force base in Ramstein, Germany. Peter fell in love with the program and continued teaching his son’s third and fifth-grade class at the German Air Force base.
After seeing the excitement and inspiration on student’s faces, Peter has continued to participate in the Adopt-A-Pilot program abroad in Germany year after year. Peter says that “bringing the Adopt-A-Pilot program to Germany is fun and the kids get something useful out of it.” Most of the students at Ramstein Elementary School were born in the U.S. or have American parents, but are too young to remember the States. Peter uses the Adopt-A-Pilot program to expand the student’s perspectives through the idea of flying all while incorporating U.S. culture in his teaching.
In school, the students learn about United States history, geography, and state capitals but lack real-world application. They have a hard time understanding how one country can be as big as the United States. One of Peter’s favorite lessons is to have the students each pick a state and bring fun facts about it to their Adopt-A-Pilot class as a neat way to incorporate American geography into their learning. Between each Adopt-A-Pilot class, he arranges his work schedule to fly to a variety of different states. Peter picks up an airport trinket in each state and brings them back to Germany. After each student shares their fun fact, Peter rewards them with a souvenir from their chosen state.
Peter even uses the classes’ European location to his advantage when explaining the history of flight. Many pioneers of aviation are from Europe and recognizable historical figures to the students. Germany has deep historical ties to aviation and aerodynamics, so instead of using paper airplanes, Peter buys each student a World War II model airplane to build and fly themselves. Last year, he purchased several large gliders with moveable control surfaces to teach the students a more accurate way of how planes are controlled.
Recently, his son advanced from a student to an assistant teacher and now helps Peter with the Adopt-A-Pilot classes. Many of his students have taken an interest in aviation and are quick to pick Peter’s brain on his experiences as a Pilot. Some students even plan to find a career in the sky!