TOPEKA (KSNT) – A local organization is getting children’s future careers ready for takeoff.

The future of aviation is growing right here in Topeka. KSNT 27 News talked to Stephen Osborne who is leading this program for youth at Philip Billard Airport.

The Aviation Explorer Squadron at hangar 15 has provided aviation education for Topeka youth for over 70 years.

“When youth reach the age of 14, they can choose to join this organization also Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts come together in this program,” Osborne said. “We are unique in the fact that we own two aircraft here that we use for flight training. Our primary mission is for leadership and experience for the kids in the world of aviation. An extra benefit is that we actually have volunteer instructors who help teach the kids how to fly.”

The young explorers learn every facet of aviation as well as leadership skills, holding positions within the squadron such as president, flight leader, and safety officer. The group aims to keep aviation training affordable, safe, and accessible.

“One of the ways that we help fund the organization is we wash airplanes afterwards,” Osborne said. “People in the community from the surrounding area will bring their airplanes here and the kids will wash and wax their airplanes for them to pay for fuel. Safety is paramount but we teach how to keep the kids safe around these aircrafts. In our organization, it has become a safe activity. We’re training them for the next step in their life where military or commercial aviation is just an easy step for them at that point.”

His aviation roots run deep with this organization, which made him the pilot he is today.

“I was knocking on the door to get in here when I was 13 years old and they said, ‘Nope, come back when you’re 14 and finished eighth grade’,” Osborne said. “So, I waited patiently, joined at 14 worked my way through several of the leadership positions and earned my private pilot rating. I’ve flown about 50 different types of aircraft and a lot of that is because of this group here.”

There is room within the Aviation Explorer Squadron for more interested future pilots.

“Other than holiday weekends, we’re out here every Saturday through the school year especially, and the majority of the summer,” Osborne said. “We just like people to show up, hang out, have some coffee, and learn about airplanes and get involved. It all happens right here in this hangar at Billard airport from 8:30 to about noon, and the first step is just showing up.”

For more information about how to get involved, visit the group’s website here.