UND Today

University of North Dakota’s Official News Source

‘The sky is literally the limit’

UND’s Aerospace Community Day draws thousands of attendees from across North Dakota and Minnesota

Ally Larson of East Grand Forks sits at the controls of UND’s Air Traffic Control Radar Lab. Photo by Joe Banish/UND Today.

As thousands of K-12 students and their family members maneuvered their way between UND’s Robin, Ryan, Clifford and Odegard halls on Saturday, UND President Andrew Armacost couldn’t help but see the aerospace leaders of the future.

“Two things strike me about this,” said Armacost, speaking about the biennial Aerospace Community Day – now in its sixth iteration.

“First, the amazing ability to connect UND and the Odegard School with the local community. Opening the doors like this sends an important message – we’re together as one.

“Second is the inspiration we can give to the next generation of youngsters who might think about with a sense of wonder what it’s like to explore the worlds of aerospace and outer space. The sky is literally the limit for what they can do.”

Robert Kraus, dean of the Odegard School, agreed. “A lot of what we’re trying to do is ignite the spark in a kid’s imagination that yes, they can do these careers,” Kraus added. “And UND is the place to come for it.”

The event’s popularity has surged, Kraus said, with some attendees having traveled hundreds of miles.

“This is a hit every year,” he said. “When we switched to every two years, there’s been that much more demand for people to come. The advertising goes out throughout the region, all the way to Duluth and Bismarck.”

Sharon Lembke of Laporte, Minn., is a testament to the event’s outreach. The former teacher and principal brought a group of 30 students to campus, along with their adult chaperones,.

The chance for students to be exposed to such a wide range of career paths was too good to pass up, Lembke said.

“I was tired of my kids missing out,” she said. “It’s wonderful that UND opens its facilities to the community like this.”


Attendees had the chance to sample activities from each of the college’s departments — Atmospheric Sciences, Aviation, Earth System Science & Policy, and Space Studies.

At Ryan Hall’s Air Traffic Control Radar Lab, participants simulated the process of directing approaches into a virtual airfield, assisted by UND student and faculty volunteers. Flight simulators were also a big draw, with lines snaking throughout the building.

At UND’s TV weather studio, Mady Delaney of Laporte, Minn., delivered a mock weather broadcast. She called being in front of the camera “fun, but a little scary.”

Mady Delaney (center) tries her hand at weather broadcasting, while Weather Update President Shelby Ebertowski looks on. Photo by Joe Banish/UND Today.

Participants also got an up-close look at the only helicopter spatial disorientation simulator in the world available to civilian pilots — the GAT-HELO. According to Tom Zeidlik, director of aerospace physiology at UND, interest in UND’s spatial disorientation courses has increased following a January 2020 helicopter crash that killed basketball star Kobe Bryant — a crash the National Transportation Safety Board attributed to spatial disorientation.

One reason the simulator is so useful, said Zeidlik, is that it mimics both the visual and physiological effects of spatial disorientation.

“This is the only one that will marry the visual with the vestibular senses,” he said. “With a lot of our simulators, you can make it look like you’re doing something, but here you can feel it and see it.

“In any kind of flight, you get a little spatially disoriented – hopefully not enough to cause a crash,” Zeidlik added. “That’s what this training is for.”

A popular draw at Aerospace Community Day was UND’s GAT-HELO spatial disorientation simulator. Photo by Joe Banish/UND Today.

Throughout the day, shuttles made trips between campus and Grand Forks International Airport, where UND’s Commercial Aviation fleet was on display.  Although high winds grounded the aircraft, attendees were able to sit in the pilot’s seat and tour the college’s hangar and Flight Operations Center.

Commercial aviation majors Riley Zerm (left) and Mateo Garcia check the oil level in a Piper Archer aircraft. Photo by Joe Banish/UND Today.