At 16, an age when most are learning to drive a car, one Alamogordo teen is taking to the skies.
Bo Perry, a student at Alamogordo High School, has been working hard for the last five months learning to fly powered aircraft at Ed’s Flying Service, located at the Alamogordo-White Sands Regional Airport. One June morning, Perry took a big step in his training and completed his first solo flight.
“It’s the first time you go up by yourself without the instructor,” Perry said. “We were on the runway, Bob (Pavelka) popped out on the taxiway and I took off. I did a pattern and landed. It’s a big accomplishment and represents a chapter in flight training.”
Of his time up in the air alone, Perry said it was a little bit nerve-racking but he felt well prepared.
Aviation has been an interest of Perry’s for the last couple years, starting in the eighth grade when he began flying with White Sands Soaring Association. Around the same time, Perry joined the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) at AHS, which also fed into his interest in aviation. Through the high school’s military liaison, Perry connected with the New Mexico Aviation Aerospace Association (NMAAA) who have sponsored him in his path to becoming a private pilot.
Perry, upon graduating high school, hopes to pursue a bachelor’s degree in aeronautics, join a college ROTC program and eventually make a path to the airlines.
Perry is a good example of the NMAAA’s goal to help the next generation of pilots get in the air. In their second annual local STEM Expo, NMAAA aims to educate middle school through high school students about careers in STEM, aviation and the aerospace industry.
“We’re trying to get students like Bo interested in aviation and to find a career,” said NMAAA President Bill Shuert. “We sponsored Bo and here he is getting his solo flight. It’s a really big deal to make that milestone and start your flying career this early, Bo just turned 16. There’s .001 percent of young men his age that would actually do this.”
Planning to host their STEM Expo at the Alamogordo-White Sands Regional Airport in October, Shuert said they’re hoping to get local businesses interested in sponsoring the event.
Shuert and the City of Alamogordo’s Airport Advisory Board went before the City Commission in April to request aid in the form of $10,000. Shuert explained the money would be used to fund transport students from schools all over the state and El Paso to the STEM Expo.
The City Commission was in favor of supporting the expo but were hesitant to spend the money and advised NMAAA to approach the Alamogordo Public Schools and the Otero County Commission for monetary help.
“Aviation is how we move,” Shuert said. “It’s how we move people, cargo, services, mail, banking — everything works off of aviation. People don’t see that aspect of it but it does happen every day.”
An issue facing the aviation industry is a massive shortage of pilots.
“There are 400,000 vacant slots coming up with Baby Boomers retiring,” Shuert said. “We’ve got to build the next generation. Aviation is a unique career field, you see fire bombers down here, air medical — everyone’s looking for pilots and maintenance guys.”
Shuert, who is a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, also pointed out the new F-16 squadrons headed for Holloman Air Force Base and the hundreds of contract maintenance jobs that will be open.
“I’ve heard there will be 400 plus maintenance jobs,” Shuert said. “We’ve got to get the youth and people engaged now so in the next couple years they get qualified and come back to get those jobs.”
Last year, the STEM Expo had an estimated 2,400 students attend the event at Holloman Air Force Base. Shuert said this year’s event promises to be even bigger now that they’ll have an easier time getting general aviation, helicopters and experimental aircraft to the airport versus on base.
“Aviation is very rewarding and needless to say, a lot of fun too,” Perry said. “Flying aircraft — what’s better than that? You get to see the world from a different view. I encourage everyone to go for a sniffer flight and quickly try it out, it’s an amazing experience.”