ALLEGANY — Several area high school students took their first small steps toward private airplane pilot’s licenses last week during the Dresser-Rand Challenger Learning Center’s inaugural Summer Aviation Camp.
Geared for eighth-through-12th-graders, the camp included instruction on flight simulators recently installed at the Allegany center, one hour of guided flight time with Steve Jackson of the Bradford (Pa.) Regional Airport and tours of the Buffalo-Niagara International Airport control tower, among other experiences.
Challenger Learning Center Director Fred Welch said five high-schoolers participated — two from Allegany, one from Olean, another from Smethport, Pa., and a student visiting from Germany.
“I’m really happy we got it off the ground,” Welch told the Times Herald on Monday. “We learned from it, and we know how we can expand it next year and get on it heavier with the marketing beforehand for more kids.”
Participating students took the controls of a Piper Archer II out of Bradford Regional the final day of camp, Jackson said. They earned 30 minutes of flight time to put toward future licensing pursuits. The other half-hour was spent observing Jackson’s cockpit procedures.
“They can log that toward their instruction if they ever decided to go on a career in aviation or just to become a private pilot,” Jackson said.
One student is already close to that goal, Welch said.
“There’s one from the Smethport area who has already flown solo,” the center director said. “He’s about 16. He can’t fly anyone around just yet, but he’s getting there.”
They also could purchase a ride in a World War II-era Stearman biplane.
The students toured the Cattaraugus County-Olean Airport in addition to Buffalo-Niagara, learning the similarities and differences between the small- and large-scale operations. Airport security was another key piece, as students got a closer look at Transportation Security Administration (TSA) protocol, Jackson said.
“We were able to get a complete tour, and the kids got to go up into the top of the tower where the air-traffic control personnel are clearing aircraft for takeoff and landings,” Jackson said. “They were able to see how that procedure works, how flight plans flow through the system.”
Between flight simulation lessons at the center, instructors and students further discussed how to develop flight plans, preflight procedures and basic instrumentation, Jackson said.
“We talked a lot about flight planning and navigating from one airport to another,” he added. “It was a really good explanation of airport operations. The kids learned an awful lot about moving airplanes around and what happens behind the scenes on the ground.”
The final day ended with a “friendly” simulator competition among the students, Jackson said.
The camp’s goal was also to highlight potential careers in aviation, the instructor noted.
“You always think of piloting, but there’s TSA, (Federal Aviation Administration), airport management and support, mechanic work,” Jackson said. “There’s a whole bunch of things they could go into, whether they’re interested in a professional career in aviation or general aviation as a hobby.”
Jackson thanked the Cattaraugus County-Olean Airport Support group, among others, for donating money for the Challenger Learning Center to fund six flight simulators and other activities.
“We couldn’t have gotten this off the ground without them,” he added.