Eventually, the new campus at Centennial Airport will be a sprawling, multi-facility effort to solve an ongoing problem in the aerospace industry: It needs more qualified hands.
“We just want to be part of the solution,” said Ben Theune, spokesman for Wings Over the Rockies, a nonprofit focused on education about aviation and space.
The great need for air and space personnel — pilots, aircraft maintenance workers, engineers, air-traffic control and the like — has a helper in motion at the Boeing Blue Sky Aviation Gallery, the first facility to open at the Exploration of Flight site at the airport. That site is Wings Over the Rockies' new location, in addition to its museum in the Lowry area of Denver.
The Blue Sky Gallery is a 19,000-square-foot hangar that offers visitors a chance to use flight simulators and even experience flying in a real plane.
After opening in July, the site is still a ways out from filling its 15-acre property at the airport: The Ozmen Black Sky Space Gallery, the next addition, could open in 2020 or 2021, Theune said. It'll be based around cutting-edge space technology and concepts.
More tenuous is the planned opening of Colorado Skies Academy, a potential aerospace middle school proposed for the development. The charter school plans to open under the Cherry Creek School District, but the district halted its application in November, only to have the decision reversed by the state Board of Education in January.
“The decision by the state board was very positive for Colorado Skies,” Theune said. “That is, at this point, the reassurance we were looking for.”
The airport sits mostly in unincorporated Arapahoe County just south of Centennial and extends south into Douglas County. The airport's name predates the city's.
Here's an update on developments at the site that Wings Over the Rockies wants to make, as Theune put it, “an ecosystem for aerospace education.”
Passing through turbulence
Cherry Creek Schools said it supports Colorado Skies Academy — the school just failed to meet a necessary condition, said Abbe Smith, spokeswoman for the school district.
“Our goal is for Colorado Skies Academy to be a successful school that ultimately reflects the high standards” of the district, Smith said.
Colorado Skies was required to provide by Nov. 15 documents from prospective students indicating their intent to enroll, but the school submitted only 24 letters of intent at that point, Smith said. The school's application said it intended to open with 225 students, she added.
The airport said its relationship with the potential school and the school district is “a natural evolution,” but also a response to industry wants and needs, said Robert Olislagers, CEO of the airport.
“The status quo is simply not good enough if Colorado wants to maintain its prominent role in aviation and aerospace,” he added. “We believe the 190-plus kids looking to enroll in 2019 should not be held up by a technicality.”
The aerospace-exhibit arm of the development has a lot to offer on its own, though — the Blue Sky Gallery houses everything from decades-old but still-operational planes to virtual reality experiences, and several experiences in between.
On its first floor, visitors can use Federal Aviation Administration-approved flight simulators, fly drones through a small course and learn about weather's effect on flying. On the second floor, they can use a large touch screen to plan a flight route like professionals do, learn about aviation careers and even listen to what pilots hear from Centennial Airport's air-traffic control tower.
Facilities aside from the Blue and Black Sky galleries and the potential school are to be determined, Theune said.
The Wings nonprofit also runs the Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum at the former Lowry Air Force Base grounds.
The new site sits at 13005 Wings Way near East County Line Road and South Peoria Street, on the southeast side of the Centennial Airport, one of the busiest general-aviation airports in the nation.