Aviation Program Takes Off
September 9, 2014
  • Share
  • Flight has always fascinated West Fargo Sheyenne High School junior Kody Coles. “The idea that something heavier than air can go up in the air is really cool,” he said. Coles is one of the first 45 students enrolled in West Fargo School District’s newly offered aviation technology class.

    On Friday, 12 students flew to Grand Forks aboard “Duggy,” a bright-yellow Douglas DC-3, to attend the General Aviation Manufacturers Association’s 12th annual job rally.

    “I want to be an engineer. Aerospace is one of the things I’ve looked at,” Coles said, seven days into the 2014 school year.

    Boxes of flight simulators await installation in Career and Technical Education teacher Dave Gravdahl’s Aviation I class. A full-size flight simulator will arrive this fall.

    Students, acting as pilots, will experience simulated flight in class with Gravdahl playing the role of air traffic controller.“We will probably take off, go to a local airport and come back to Hector (International Airport in Fargo) on computers,” Gravdahl said. “Right now, we’re working on flight history, but we’re also getting into the aerodynamics of flight.”

    The aviation class was proposed in 2011, Gravdahl said, as a challenge for meeting the school district’s Science Technology Engineering and Math initiative. STEM is a learning process that emphasizes project-based learning using relevant technology and community partnerships. “We can’t find a letter in that acronym that isn’t covered by the aviation program,” said Greg Grooters, Sheyenne High principal.

    The class is being funded by help from outside sources, including the Fargo Jet Center.
    “The Jet Center was instrumental in coming our way, reaching out and providing resources to assist in establishing the program,” said Grooters. “There’s a nice group of community partnerships.”

    Aviation has tremendous needs in the next few years, Gravdahl said.

    “On top of that there’s a big interest from students,” Gravdahl said.

    Turnout for the first Aviation I class was larger than he expected.

    Gravdahl now spends 60 percent of his time teaching the aviation class, Grooters said. “I see it being 100 percent of his job in the very near future,” said Grooters. The class will explore airline careers ranging from becoming a pilot, air traffic controller or airport manager to being an airplane mechanic. “This is a little less theory and a lot more practice,” Grooters said. “This really gets closer to real-life experiences, jobs and careers that might be possible for a student.” Next year, Aviation II will be offered to those who complete Aviation I. “Our goal is to actually build a flyable kit airplane,” Gravdahl said. “We would like to build a Glasair Sportsman, similar to a Cessna 172.”

    The project could take two to three years, he said.

    Sheyenne junior Olivia Larson has a good reason to take the class. “My whole family is into aviation – my dad, my uncle, my grandma – we’re an aviation family,” she said. Larson initially has her eyes set on a medical career. “I might look into (aviation) as a career later,” she said. “I love to fly.