Opportunity knocks on students' doors

By Megan R. Harrell

   Carter County high school students are sitting on one of the most promising opportunities they will ever have. In return for commitment, hard work and a nominal cost, students are now able to receive their private pilot's license in conjunction with a new vocational flight program.
   The flight curriculum is based on a program that has been used in middle Tennessee for six years. The Renaissance Center sponsors vocational aviation programs in five high schools in middle Tennessee. The Brumit Foundation and Carter County schools researched the aviation programs there, and brought a similar one to local students.
   The Carter County vocational aviation program consists of two parts: a classroom curriculum and an after school flight club. Students must take Introduction Aerospace and Theory of Flight classes as part of the classroom curriculum in order to participate in the Watauga Eagle Squadron Flight Club. Students fly after school hours because of liability concerns.
   County Vocational Education Director Meredith Trott worked with local and state departments of education to get the aviation program approved in the Carter County schools. She went to middle Tennessee to observe the aviation programs. "I visited their high schools, observed their pilot teach their courses and went to the airport and saw their plane. I got really excited about what was being done with those students in middle Tennessee. They were getting the chance to fly," Trott said.
   In order for the aviation classes to be taught in county schools, Trott had to apply for special vocational course approval. The application is required each time the county teaches a course that is not in the state curriculum. She also worked with instructor David Elrod to write a competency profile for the course. The profile stated exactly what Elrod would be teaching in the classroom.
   Elrod's involvement in the flight program was vital to its success. Carter County needed to locate an instructor that Tennessee would approve for an occupational license. In order to receive approval the flight instructor had to be an avionics mechanic as well.
   Elizabethton is home to Moody Aviation which trains individuals across the country in flight, avionics, and aircraft maintenance. Elrod was a recent graduate of the Moody program and was fully qualified under Tennessee's guidelines. "By biggest concern was finding an instructor. That was our biggest obstacle. We are so fortunate to have David. He is fabulous and has made the program the success that it is," Trott said.
   County students are now able to take full advantage of the flight program that was recently added to Tennessee's New Trade and Industry curriculum. Students participating in the Watauga Eagle Squadron receive lessons for only $10 per hour of flight.
   Matthew Daniel, senior at Unaka High School, was one of the nine students who recently completed the first part of the vocational flight program. Daniel has passed the two flight classes and is working towards getting his private pilot's license. It did not take Daniel long to decide whether or not the vocational flight program was for him. "I have been interested in aviation all my life. My dad works in avionics at Edwards and Associates, Piney Flats, and he kind of gave me the bug," Daniel said. "When I saw that they were going to start a vocational flight class for Carter County schools it immediately caught my interest. I was one of the first students to ask a guidance counselor about it."
   In order to receive his private pilot's license Daniel will have to complete 40 hours of flight time. He currently has four hours in the air, but will be logging flight hours until he begins college in the fall.
   Daniel is responsible for a number of things when he takes to the skies. The program has also given him skills he can use in all facets of life. "You have to consider a lot of things. It is like driving, only 10 times harder," Daniel said. "You have to concentrate on flying the airplane and have to be aware of your surroundings, then there is the pre-flight on the ground. You have to figure out the course and develop check points along the way. It really helps you to organize your thoughts."
   The program offers more to students than just a pilot's license. Students are able to develop skills and background in a variety of areas including science, math and geography. Doors are opened for students as far as future opportunities as well. "We are not just looking at people being pilots. This is a background for an airport manager, for an avionics mechanic, air traffic controller, aerospace engineer, and an avionics technician. There are an awful lot of job opportunities out there, you do not have to just fly a plane," Trott said.
   Students interested in the program must show an early interest in the program in order to participate. In order for students to take the aviation classes this past semester, they had to change their schedules which were already made. "Eighth-graders now are going to have to look ahead and say, 'that looks like a cool class, when I get to high school, I am going to take it,'" Elrod said.
   As a student, Daniel also sees the potential the program offers and recommends it to his peers. "I would tell others that this is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Something like this will probably never come up again, and if you have ever been interested in aviation at least look into the class. You might not like it but at least try it," Daniel said.
   Looking toward the future, instructor Elrod would like to see the program continue to grow and develop. He would like the program to become something that county students aspire to be involved in. "I'd like to see it become sort of an elite thing that kids want to do, because if they see it as something that is elite they will get in here and keep the mentality that it is a privilege to do this," Elrod said. He went on to say that most students do not have an opportunity to participate in such a program.
   Students interested in the vocational flight program may contact their guidance counselors for more information.