Red Jacket Flying Club — the first of its kind the state — is really taking off
SHORTSVILLE — When Charlene Dehn talks about her students taking flight, she means literally.
The superintendent of the Manchester-Shortsville Central School District has turned her longtime passion for the skies into a new school club — one of its kind in New York state — where students can potentially earn their private pilot’s license by the time they graduate.
The Red Jacket Flying Club took off last fall after being approved by the Board of Education on Nov. 8.
Dehn started having parents’ meetings in December, and the club really got off the ground in January with five members who are the first Red Jacket students to complete ground school training: Connor Clark, Nadine Fox, Brock Hill, Karlie Malone and McKenzie Schaertl.
“This is no easy task,” Dehn said. “Keep your eye on these student pilots as they work toward their goal of obtaining their private pilot certificate by the time they graduate from high school. These club members have been researching career opportunities ranging from search and rescue, remote animal rescue, business-to-corporate transport, to military options where they can put their aviation skills to use.”
She praises board members Kristen Gray, Jennifer Speers, Eric Schaertl, Rich Vienna, Amanda MacNamara and Barb Gardner for being extremely supportive of the club.
“The board’s visionary leadership has allowed the school to provide more career education opportunities for students wishing to pursue their goals,” she said.
Dehn started flying in 2005, later earning her private pilot’s license after receiving instruction at M&S Air Service in Canandaigua.
“It’s just something I always wanted to do, so I went to the Canandaigua Airport and started taking lessons,” she said. “It’s really recreational for me. It’s my hobby.”
She flies mostly during the summer when she has more free time, and enjoys going out over the Finger Lakes, especially on July 4, seeing all the fireworks around the various waterways.
“It’s a beautiful view from above,” she said.
As word got out that their superintendent had a plane, students started expressing an interest in Dehn’s pastime, so she took them under her wings, so to speak.
The first student she offered a ride in her 1969 Cessna 172 Skyhawk was Sarah Jo Schaertl, McKenzie’s cousin, who graduated in 2015.
Last summer, she took up Connor Speers, a fifth-grader who was the first to indicate to Dehn an interest in an aviation career, saying he wanted to become a commercial pilot — although he will have to wait until he gets to high school to join the club.
Dehn later took up freshman Brock Hill, doing a soft takeoff from grass at Hopewell Airpark, and guided McKenzie Schaertl as she practiced coordinated turns, and straight and level flight.
“Inspiration comes from many places and sometimes it comes from unsuspecting students,” Dehn said, noting their enthusiasm, a shortage of pilots and the school district’s career education initiative got her thinking.
She contacted Norm Isler, Northeast ambassador for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, about the logistics of creating a school-based flying club and partnering with a local club to access a certified flight instructor and affordable rental.
She knew the Penn Yan Flying Club had a small plane based at Canandaigua Airport and that the club’s president, Jim Alexander, was a Red Jacket community member.
To Dehn, it seemed like the perfect opportunity for a unique partnership. Plus, M&S provided instruction at the Canandaigua Airport, only 8 miles away from Red Jacket High School.
Alexander, a certified flight instruction and member of the Ontario County Sheriff’s Department, provided ground school instruction for the students for free at their school after school.
The kids also learned about flight safety and free programs the Federal Aviation Administration offers from FAA Safety Team Program Manager Bill Abbott, who works out of Rochester and volunteers his time for the students; and toured the air traffic control tower at the Greater Rochester International Airport, where they connected with Brian Blazey and Megan Headley.
In addition, Dehn is a volunteer pilot for the Experimental Airport Association, an organization that has flying resources and scholarship opportunities for kids through its Young Eagles Program.
Dehn said kids can start learning about getting their pilot’s license at 14, but must be at least 17 to be eligible for an FAA rating and to take the written test. There is an extensive process — including minimal flight time requirements — leading up to licensure.
There is no cost to the district for the flying club, with members starting their adventure with a free introductory flight with Dehn.
Through her affiliations, club members receive free memberships to the EEA, AOPA and a free online Learn to Fly course through Shorty’s Pilot Shop, headquartered in Batavia, Ohio.
Her students are applying for scholarships through EEA and AOPA, and conducting fundraisers to offset the costs of flight training they hope to start this summer. Dehn estimates those costs will be about $8,000 per student to cover the training, rental and fuel costs.