CREVE COEUR, Mo. – Families packed the Creve Coeur Airport on Saturday for Youth Aviation Day.

The event was put on by the Gateway Youth Aeronautical Foundation. It’s a way to inspire the next generation of aviators in a time when the nation is experiencing a pilot shortage.

Eight-year-old Jude Engelhard and his family had a blast. He was most excited about seeing the planes, but Jude and his twin sister also got to learn about mechanics in a hands-on way.

“I was drilling into a drill bit,” Engelhard said. “I like fixing stuff.”

This is the kind of interactive experience organizers wanted kids to have.

“We need more pilots,” Faith Ortega said. “We need more mechanics in the industry, and so if this is something that they now are subjected to, and they may realize that this is a career path that they could potentially take.”

Dozens of aircraft were on display. Kids could get their photos taken inside. They could even go up in a helicopter or plane ride as part of the Young Eagle Flights. Many seemed particularly interested in a Vietnam War-era F4 Phantom.

“My husband, many years ago, before we were married, he had a love of aviation and then when we got married, he acquired the F-4 Phantom cockpit, which was honestly a pile of rust in a junkyard out in New Mexico. I thought he was crazy. When he left for the military, that was his project was to restore the F4 Phantom cockpit,” co-organizer Michelle Steimann said. “We traveled to air shows for quite a long time until my daughter was born, and then he decided to retire it for a couple years and was in the History Museum for a couple of years. After that he had just this idea, he really wanted to inspire kids to get into aviation.”

This is the second year Michelle and her husband Joe Steimann have put on this event. They also had an aviation career fair and virtual reality flight simulators. People could also stop by and look at the Historic Aircraft Museum, which is open Friday-Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and by appointment Tuesday through Thursday.

“We’ve got trainer planes and bombers, and all kinds of WWI airplanes,” volunteer Bob Henrikson said. “The main thing I like to see and what we need in aviation is kids wanting to get into aviation.”

To learn more about the Gateway Youth Aeronautical Foundation, click here.