Most high school juniors and seniors are just learning how to drive, but come fall, students at the Central Nine Career Center will be learning how to fly — not hypothetically; not via virtual reality; but from the cockpit of an actual airplane.
The Central Nine school board approved an Aviation Flight class Thursday that will give students the opportunity to earn 15 hours of flight time before they graduate high school, nearly half of the 40 hours that’s needed to acquire a pilot’s license.
The class, which will launch this fall, comes in the midst of a pilot shortage, and will hopefully help bolster student interest in flying, said Matt Edwards, who teaches the Aviation Operations class at Central Nine.
“There’s a pilot shortage industry-wide and the airlines are having a super hard time keeping the number of pilots they need,” Edwards said. “They are being recruited by airlines, especially at the college level.”
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The class will be conducted in partnership with Vincennes University, which has its own flight program out of the Aviation Technology Center near the Indianapolis International Airport. Edwards, who used to teach flight at Vincennes, will fly with students at the Indy South Greenwood Airport, Central Nine Director William Kovach said.
“Through Vincennes, if you continue, you can stay at the Aviation Technology Center. They have an articulation agreement with Purdue (University),” Kovach said. “It’s a nice opportunity for students who want to go into learning how to be a pilot.”
Until now, the closest students get to flying is through an electronic flight simulator in class, Kovach said.
Come fall, the class will be open to mostly seniors, with spots for a few juniors. A trained co-pilot will have a full set of controls in case anything goes wrong during flight. Student pilots will be insured through Vincennes, Kovach said.
“They’ll never be alone in the plane. There will always be a licensed pilot instructor in the plane. Fifteen hours (of flight time) is very helpful, and we’ll cover the cost of that too,” Kovach said.
The median salary for a pilot in 2018 was $115,670, and the number of jobs for pilots was projected to grow by about 6% in the next decade with about 7,000 additional jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
In order to become a commercial pilot, applicants must pass a medical exam, a written exam and a practical flight exam. Students can attend any of hundreds of civilian flight schools to earn a bachelor’s degree. Commercial pilots typically fly for thousands of hours before a major airline will hire them, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Having the chance to fly and pursue a pilot’s license is in junior Kaidon Carter’s blood, he said.
It will also help Carter build on the knowledge he’s developed during the Aviation Operations class, he said.
Students can’t jump straight into flight, as the class has prerequisites. In the Aviation Maintenance class, students learn about federal aviation regulations and how to sustain airplanes. In the Aviation Operations class, students learn aviation technology, the history of the aviation industry and about a variety of aviation careers, according to Central Nine’s website.
“My brother is a helicopter mechanic for the Indiana National Guard,” Carter said. “Getting to use the knowledge from this class to have flight time will be more exciting. (I’ve learned) the basics of flying and how an airplane works; how everything goes into an actual flight plan. (But) getting to fly a plane, I know (that’s) a lot more difficult.”
Junior Jake Simmons also has a familial connection to flight, as his uncle has a pilot’s license. Simmons started taking private flying lessons over the summer, he said.
“I’ve always wanted to get my pilot’s license. My uncle has his and I’m possibly interested in flying as a career,” Simmons said.
Although senior Brendan Bovard won’t get the chance to take the flight class before he graduates, he is still considering taking private lessons with Edwards, he said.
“I’m kind of jealous. I wish I could have taken it. I’ve thought about using him as a flight instructor a lot. He’s a good teacher,” Bovard said.
“It’s the freedom of it. Just the control and the money of course,” he said of flying. “It draws me in because it’s different."
The chance to take high school students above the clouds is a dream come true for Edwards, he said.
“I’m super excited. Previously on the flight side, I’ve only been able to tell them different ground knowledge about flying and do some simulations. But now, we’re finally going to be able to take them in the air and they can apply the knowledge they’ve gained in an airplane,” Edwards said.
“It’s been a dream of mine since the beginning of teaching high school students. It’s rare to have because of the cost and time involved to get students in the air.”