Awards & Events

Donation Allows Oh Wow! to Add Flight Simulator

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The airplane at Oh Wow! The Roger & Gloria Jones Children’s Center for Science & Technology is among its most popular exhibits. Now it has an upgrade that is boosting its popularity.

A flight simulator was added to the first-floor Avionics Wow! Zone last week. A dedication ceremony took place Saturday.

The family of the late John and Diana Lallo made the donation to fund “Big John’s Flight Trainer” there.

John Lallo was president of McRoyal Industries in Youngstown. He and his wife died in a plane crash in 2013.

“It’s something that we’ve always wanted to put on there,” said Lisa Long, Oh Wow associate director. “The airplane has always been such a big hit, and we love seeing kids’ imaginations take off flying that plane pretending they were going to New York City.”

The airplane – an exhibit carried over from the center’s earlier incarnation as the Children’s Museum of the Valley – now features a flight simulator that adds extra levels to the experience, such as teaching children about math and the concepts of latitude and longitude, Long said.

Visitors select their destination using a touch screen and the simulator shows them how to get there by hitting certain waypoints along the way, she said. The simulator pilot then navigates to the destination using the plane’s joystick, hitting those markers along the flight path.

The Lallo family had discussed finding a way to support Oh Wow for a while, and on a visit this summer they decided to give an especially meaningful gift in memory of their parents.

The family’s sponsorship of the exhibit “was in excess of $10,000,” Suzanne Barbati, Oh Wow president and executive director, said. She declined to be more specific.

The Lallos’ four children and seven grandchildren were on hand for Saturday’s dedication. Each took a turn on the flight simulator, taking off from Youngstown and charting courses to West Palm Beach, Los Angeles, Kansas City, New York City and Boston, all places where members of the family now live or often visit. Although members of the Lallo family live across the country, they often visit Oh Wow when they are in town.

“This just feels like home. We have such a connection to the area. There’s so much passion at Oh Wow and it gives an outlet for children to come explore,” John Lallo Jr., the couple’s son, said in a news release announcing the dedication and donation.

John Lallo was an avid pilot who loved to fly, and his son was confident his parents were looking down on them Saturday and “having a blast,” he remarked.

“They were always entertaining and having a lot of people over. There was always a lot of noise and a lot of laughs. Making this donation will give us all a reason to keep coming back to Youngstown together,” he said.

The upgrade to the exhibit was installed Dec. 19 and opened to the public the following day, Long said. The timing was perfect because of the number of families in town for the holidays who visit Oh Wow while they are in town.

“Response so far has been great,” Long said.

The associate director, who worked the check-in desk Christmas Eve, recalled asking arriving visitors if they liked the plane and telling them that they could navigate to destinations using the new simulator as if they were playing a video game.

“They just ran right off to it,” she remarked.

First-time Oh Wow visitors Christina Kelly and her daughter, Courtney, age 6, tried out the simulator Wednesday afternoon. The  residents of Palmyra  attended using a pass checked out from the Tri-Lakes Library as part of Oh Wow’s partnership with the Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County.

Courtney Kelly was too shy to talk to a reporter but her mother said she enjoyed using the simulator.

The center is now upgrading its Kapla building block and gear wall exhibits, which are due to reopen for New Year’s Eve, Barbati said.

Next on tap is an upgrade to the Energy Zone that  focuses  on personal movement. “Research shows that personal movement not only has a positive impact on your physical health but your mental health, your cognitive abilities, all of those things,” she said.

Oh Wow already has secured $30,000 from the Gelbman Foundation and is seeking other funding. The center will be submitting grant applications and talking to its investors over the next six months. The goal is to have the exhibit completed by midyear 2019, in time for its birthday celebration in May, if possible, or Silly Science Sunday in September.

“We have a concept in mind but we have to figure out how to represent that with an exhibit that’s durable enough and maintenance-free enough that it works for our space here,” Barbati said.

Pictured: Courtney Kelly uses the flight simulator at Oh Wow! 

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.