A couple dozen small airplanes flew to the gateway to the community, the Hays Regional Airport, in a whirlwind tour of Kansas on Wednesday, part of the Fly Kansas Air Tour. Weather conditions on a cloudy day kept some of the pilots grounded or delayed.

This is the second tour — the first of which was last year — with the mission to connect kids to aviation and science careers, and to introduce pilots to communities throughout Kansas. Tuesday, the group flew to Wellington, Pratt, Dodge City and Liberal. Wednesday, the group had plans to visit Garden City and Colby before heading to Hays.

They spent the night in Hays before they continued the tour with plans to visit Concordia, Junction City and Emporia today.

The Kansas Commission on Aerospace Education partnered with the Kansas Department of Transportation Division of Aviation to organize the tour. They also conduct outreach events throughout the year.

“It’s a good way to drive traffic to Hays and hopefully get people interested in aviation as well,” said Nathan Marcucci, airport manager. “The goal is to see how pretty Hays is and what Hays has to offer. Hays has a lot of good things going on.”

One goal of the air tour is to show pilots what is available in the state, he said.

The pilots toured RANS Design Inc. aircraft manufacturing and enjoyed food at Gella’s Diner. Marcucci said RANS is known in the airplane community for building quality aircraft.

This is the first year they have come to Hays. Last year, they focused on central Kansas and this year, western.

Pilot Phyllis Blanton, Valley Center, had been to Hays before, but wanted to bring her husband and daughter to tour the RANS facility.

“It’s always fun visiting and seeing the other pilots,” she said.

Although the stop in Hays did not include students, Nathaniel Hinkel, marketing and outreach for KDOT’s aviation division, said education is a major component of this program.

“Many of the students we reach out to have never been out to the airport and have never seen the small general aviation airplanes,” he said. “We’re looking to inspire them with aviation and show them different opportunities with careers and educational opportunities.

“Most of our pilots have other careers. We have retired airline pilots, air traffic controllers, engineers, airport planners and dentists sharing our joy of aviation, encouraging students to pursue science, technology, engineering and math as well as aviation.”

They teach basic aerodynamic principles, let the kids sit in the airplanes, and meet with associated aircraft companies.

“It’s also introducing the community to the airport,” Hinkel said. “There’s great potential for economic development at airports usually it’s affordable land and has the aviation infrastructure.”

They have tried to cover as much of the state as they reasonably could, focusing on smaller airports.

The tour will end Saturday although pilots are under no obligation to fly to all of the communities. The pilots pay their own expenses except for meals paid through sponsorships.

One new stop for co-pilot Star Novak was Dodge City.

“I’d never been to Dodge City before,” Novak said. “That was pretty neat. I don’t travel much in the western side of the state.

“It was a good experience for me to see what was out there. I was amazed.”

She particularly enjoys socializing with the pilots who have a common interest in aviation.

Marcucci invited the group to come to Hays after he heard about the tour last November.

“I thought it was a good way to promote the airport and promote Hays,” he said.

Marcucci said he hopes they return and visit the community again.