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PRIVATE LIVES : Prepare for Takeoff . . . : Santa Monica's Museum of Flying caters to children with new interactive area and their parents with dining deal.

August 28, 1994|Carroll Lachnit | Carroll Lachnit is a free - lance writer based in Long Beach

It's the plane truth. Kids are fascinated by aircraft. From paper planes and balsa wood gliders to radio-controlled models and jets that thunder overhead, if it has wings, it'll fly with children.

The Museum of Flying in Santa Monica knows that. It displays actual aircraft, such as the Bell P-39 and the Douglas DC-3, and more than 120 wood and metal production models of concept planes. Video stations show footage of historic planes in action. Aviation films are screened in the museum's theater. Hangar doors yawn to reveal planes taking off and landing on a runway of Santa Monica Airport, where the museum is located.

But no kid wants to just stand around and look at a plane, even if it is an actual YAK 3. The museum knows that too. In May, it opened Airventure, an 8,000-square-foot children's interactive area, to introduce kids to the fundamentals of designing, building and flying aircraft. It's also a good way to teach them some math and science too.

But parents don't have to tell them that.

The interactive area has videos, model-building stations and actual cockpits that children can climb into. There are sophisticated flight simulators, in the form of a Fokker DR-1 and a Sopwith Camel.

W hen kids get in the cock pits, they see computer- generated images before them, which respond as they work the plane's controls. They can just take the plane up for a simulated spin--or engage in a dogfight with another flyer. (That should be a snap for video-game-playing children. For their parents? More of a challenge, perhaps.)

On the weekends, the museum has hands-on workshops, which are held in the museum's specially built miniature hangar. The workshops range from 15 to 45 minutes, are generally geared for children as young as 5, and are free with museum admission.

Today, for example, "Learning to Preflight" explains how a pilot prepares an aircraft for takeoff. The workshop is at 1 p.m.

Also today, at noon, is "Beginner Glider Building." Children learn the difference between a glider and an airplane, compare the parts and construct a paper and a balsa glider. It's one of the museum's most popular workshops, said Pamela Hall, director of children's education.

"Children learn the basics of construction, make a plane and become the pilot," she said. "And they're good pilots. They're willing to experiment with a design or take a risk to make it fly better or faster."

Parents--and other adults--are welcome in the workshops, Hall said. "Beginner Glider Building" will also be held Saturday and next Sunday, both at 1 p.m.

In September, the museum is putting on special programs about aviation pioneer and helicopter designer Igor Sikorsky, and that includes children's workshops on helicopter design and operation.

N ext weekend, "How Do Heli copters Take Off?" explores aerodynamics, the airfoil, Newton's Third Law of Motion and cyclic pitch--all in language children can grasp. (Actually, parents could probably benefit from a simplified explanation of this stuff too.)

Kids also create mini-rotor paper aircraft to test fly. That workshop, for children 6 and older, meets at noon.

Also in September, the museum presents weekend workshops where kids can make and test-fly paper helicopters and experiment with packing and dropping mini-parachutes. Contact the museum for details.

On Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday nights, DC3, a restaurant adjacent to the museum, has a special deal for families. Parents with dinner reservations for 6, 6:30 or 7 p.m. can have a quiet meal alone while their children, in the care of a certified child-care service, dine on pizza, salad and dessert at DC3 and then adjourn to the museum to play on the simulators, make paper airplanes and watch videos. There is no additional charge for the child care.

The restaurant asks that parents make their reservations no later than 2 p.m. on the day they want to dine, so it can tell the service how many children to expect.

At 9 p.m., parents reclaim their kids, and it's happy landings for everyone.*

* Museum of Flying, 2772 Donald Douglas Loop North, Santa Monica (at Santa Monica Airport). (310) 392-8822. Admission: adults $7; senior citizens, $5; children ages 3-17, $3.

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