Caleb Bart-Appiah had a crash landing, Cara Gamm missed the runway entirely and Taylor Wilson logged a textbook perfect flight.
“I did good,” said Wilson, a sophomore cadet with Glynn Academy’s JROTC program. “I had a successful mission.”
The line to the flight simulator room at McKinnon St. Simons Island Airport was a dozen kids deep Saturday during the third annual Aviation Career Day. Those exiting the simulator reported results as varying as the test flights of Bart-Appiah, Gamm and Wilson.
But then again, there is more to the aviation industry than just flying the plane. Bart-Appiah might very well have a smooth landing given a second chance, but the Glynn Middle seventh-grader was sufficiently intrigued by the prospect of growing up to work in aviation.
“Yeah, I crashed the plane,” he said. “But I learned some stuff I never knew about. I think I’m interested in finding out more.”
Introducing youth to the opportunities available in the field of flight was the whole point of Saturday’s event, which attracted hundreds of youngsters from throughout the area. Those opportunities are only getting broader, as a plethora of commercial airline pilots from the Baby Boomer generation reach mandatory retirement. Nearly 800,000 commercial pilot jobs are expected to open up over the next two decades, according to Aviation Week Network. Additionally, about 155,000 business aviation and helicopter pilot spots will become available in the not-too-distant future.
“We’re hearing about all these problems with commercial airlines and a big reason is that there is a pilot shortage,” said Leslie Faulkenberry, spokeswoman for the Glynn County Airport Commission. “Many are hitting mandatory retirement age, and we don’t have as many military pilots to fill those spots as we did in past generations.”
Those commercial and business interests needing new young pilots will have to hold off a few years before they get ahold of Wilson. She plans to enter the Air Force after graduating from Glynn Academy.
“I’ve had fun looking inside all the planes today,” she said. “Since middle school I’ve said, ‘I’m going to fly.’ All I want to do when I go into the Air Force is fly some planes.”
But there are plenty of aviation career opportunities outside of the flight cockpit, a point Saturday’s event stressed. These include mechanics, technicians, electricians and other fields for those with interests in math and science curriculums.
“One of the misconceptions is that to get involved in aviation you’ve got to be a pilot,” Faulkenberry said. “But for any of the technology tracks that these kids are on, there’s a career in aviation.”
In fact, the Golden Isles College & Career Academy hopes to offer an aviation program by the fall, said Rick Townsend, CEO of the county public charter school that serves high school-age students and adults. The program would focus on an array of aircraft maintenance issues, from the frame to the mechanics to the wiring.
Career Academy officials are awaiting word on accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
Five students from the Career Academy are presently enrolled in an apprentice program with Gulfstream Aerospace Corporation at the Brunswick Golden Isles Airport off of Glynco Parkway, he said.
“It’s important to understand the great career paths available in aviation,” Townsend said. “We’re excited about this.”
Salaries in the field can range from nearly $45,000 for entry-level aviation mechanics to $220,000 for a senior-level commercial pilot, said Terra Winslett, property and marketing manager for the county Airport Commission. Many of those opportunities exist locally, with both Gulfstream and Stambaugh Aviation among the county’s top 10 industrial employers, Faulkenberry said.
Outside on the tarmac Saturday, cloudy skies and a steady drizzle hardly deterred the stream of young men and women who milled about inspecting an assortment of aircraft. Some 140 youngsters signed up for a free flight over the Golden Isles, via pilots with the local chapter of the Experimental Aircraft Association. Rain forced the postponement until a sunnier day of those promised flights, which parents will be happy to note are to take place in conventional six- and four-seater aircraft.
The local Experimental Aircraft Association first joined forces with other like-minded organizations in the Golden Isles to host the event after realizing a new generation will soon need to step into their shoes. Other sponsors of the event include the Civil Air Patrol, the Career Academy, Golden Isles Aviation and the county Airport Commission.
Out on that tarmac, Brunswick pilot Mike Whitehead entertained varied and curious questions from youngsters about his Cozy III, a compact V-shaped craft.
“As we get older, we need people to fill our places,” Whitehead said. “They are a good group of kids — smart, polite and I think they’re probably learning a few things, so that’s good.”