Milwaukee kids learn aviation skills from Southwest pilots

MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- Four Southwest Airlines pilots visited fourth and fifth graders from Longfellow Public School on Thursday, February 13th to show them just what they do at their jobs on a daily basis.

Southwest's Adopt-a-Pilot program gets kids out of the classroom and into the cockpit where pilots help guide the children in a flight simulator. Discovery World hosted the event, which involves around 900 Southwest and AirTran Airways pilots nationally.

"The rewarding part for us is to see that light bulb come on in their head and have them understand what it is we do, and want to pursue that as a hobby or a career, either way," said Southwest Airlines pilot Tom Gilbert.

After listening to all four pilots tell their career stories, the kids get a chance to take the controls, as well as a pin from Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.

"I think once you make it more real, once they have an understanding of why it's important to learn that, they're going to be more likely to learn it than if you said 'here, memorize this,'" said Mayor Barrett.

While most of the students participating in Thursday's event likely won't end up making a living in aviation, the pilots say some lessons are universal.

"Whether they're going to be truck drivers, firemen, policemen, nurses, doctors, lawyers, whatever they're going to be in life, we want them to find a goal and focus like a laser beam on that goal," said Southwest Airlines pilot Nick Caulfield.

Southwest has been sponsoring Adopt-a-Pilot since 1997. The program lasts four weeks, with the pilots making one classroom visit each week.