Nine Hawaii Preparatory Academy middle-schoolers were offered a chance to not only learn about helicopters and airplanes, but to fly them too last week.
As part of the school’s four-day “theme week,” the sixth, seventh and eighth graders ventured outside the classroom, learned new skills and experienced a wide range of unique opportunities — everything from flying to scuba diving, horseback riding and art.
The “Come Fly With Me” activity began with an overview of aviation from instructors including Chris Bynum, an HPA 2012 graduate.
“Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought I’d be landing a helicopter on HPA’s campus,” he said.
Seventh grader Nathan O’Toole enjoyed “Come Fly With Me” so much the previous year that he chose the activity for a second year instead of learning to sail or an overnight horseback riding outing.
“My goal is to become an even better pilot, especially an airplane pilot,” he said, a dream he has had since he was five. “I want to be an aeronautical engineer.”
The activity originated from a conversation between an interested teacher and an HPA parent who is a professional pilot. The school then contacted Ben Fouts, owner and pilot of Kona-based Mauna Loa Helicopters, to partner with them.
“This is an exciting program and we are really enthusiastic about educating the youth and developing opportunities for them,” he said.
On the first day, students learned rules, expected conduct and the preeminence of safety before delving into aerodynamics, special federal aviation regulations, terminology and communication. They were also trained in various technical skills firsthand and learned through a simulated “ground school.”
United Airlines First Officer Jeff Inman stopped by to share with the students his experiences serving in the Air Force and Hawaii Air National Guard before becoming a commercial pilot.
“The aviation industry is growing by leaps and bounds. It needs new energetic participants to sustain the growth,” he said. “There are no barriers for you to pursue your dreams.”
On day two, the middle-schoolers went where few preteens have gone before: Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport’s air traffic control tower. The young pilots watched as controllers remained calm and focused, despite the stressful demands within the 118-foot tower. They learned how to read the computerized radar, printed tickers and logistically maintain the flow of aircraft in and out of the airport.
The group then toured the 24,000-square-foot Aircraft Rescue and Fire-Fighting facility. Highlights there included donning fire suits and having a chance to feel the pressure as students sprayed fire hoses.
Returning back to campus, a few hours were spent in the classroom to gain a sound understanding of crew resource management and Federal Aviation Administration rules and regulations.
On Wednesday morning, two Robinson-22 helicopters landed on HPA’s baseball field on the upper campus. Students rotated for 15 minutes of flight each. Their path followed down to Kawaihae and a brief jaunt along the coastline before circling back to HPA. Students were given the controls and able to feel the subtlety of flying a helicopter.
“I had the sensation like I myself was flying,” said 8th grader Brenda Gomez.
Returning to the classroom, that afternoon students had more instruction pertaining to navigation and weather before showcasing their theoretical knowledge on a written test. Their individual scores and other factors, including participation, constant group perceptivity, positive attitude and overall motivation, determined seating in a Diamond Aircraft (DA-22) and Cessna-172 for the fourth and final day.
“The opportunity my son had to spend several intensive days taking ground school classes from experienced Hawaii Island pilots and then get to actually fly is so amazing and unique,” said HPA parent Kelly Barrick. “I am very grateful for this theme week experience. You never know where adventures like this may lead a person later in life.”
Looking back on the four days of instruction, Fouts sees potential in developing a two-year aviation degree program at HPA like the one he runs in partnership with Troy University in Alabama currently.
“We feel HPA has the right platform to be the pioneer for this program in Hawaii,” he said.