The White Pines Intermediate School sixth-grader attended the Space Camp for Interested Visually Impaired Students in Huntsville, Alabama. Throughout the aviation challenge camp, Baykowski participated in simulators and “missions,” and met students from around the world, despite being blind.
Campers also had call signs for the week. After learning about each other, they voted on each other’s call signs. Baykowski’s call sign was “Tech.”
In getting to know their fellow campers, they exchanged pins from places where they live. Baykowski received pins from such places as St. Louis, Missouri.
Sitting in a cockpit, campers used a simulation to learn how to take off, land and maneuver a plane. Baykowski said it was challenging for himself and another camper who is also blind.
“It was still fun,” he added.
They also went on “patrolling missions.” Campers would “go behind enemy lines” to complete a mission without getting caught. One “mission” involved finding an “injured pilot” and bringing him to safety while hiding from enemies.
“It was actually pretty crazy,” Baykowski said.
Baykowski was “captured” during the night mission and they tried to get information about who else was with him. Baykowski’s team saved him.
Campers also participated in a dunker to simulate escaping from an airplane that crashed into water. The group was placed in 3 feet of water and the dunker was on an angle. Campers had to find a window and climb out of the dunker by themselves.
In another activity, campers had to swim to a basket and climb in before getting raised out of the water, Baykowski said.
Graduation was another highlight of the week.
In addition to earning his own set of pilot wings, Baykowski received a set of wings from an instructor who served in the U.S. Army for more than 30 years.
Throughout the week, the students competed in the simulator to see who was “top gun.” The instructor gave Baykowski and another camper a set of wings off his own uniform because they to know they did a good job and did their best, said Alicia Green, a special-education assistant at White Pines who attended the camp with Baykowski.
“It brought tears to my eyes,” Green said.
Although Green attended the camp with him, Baykowski participated independently; Green was there to lend a hand as needed.
Green, who is in her second year of working with Baykowski, said she enjoyed watching him and other children with vision impairments having the same experiences and overcoming challenges.
When Baykowski expressed interest in attending the space camp, community members and the Tri-Cities Kiwanis donated funds to help make it happen. They raised $1,800, said Sandy Huber, a Kiwanis member and former educator.
Baykowski thanked everyone who donated and helped make the trip possible.