LINESVILLE — Conneaut Area Senior High School students will soon have the opportunity to be prepped to take on the skies.
“You Can Fly,” a program from the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), a nonprofit dedicated to general aviation, was approved at a recent Conneaut School Board meeting, allowing ninth graders to begin training for drone certification or flight school.
Erie’s Public Schools is the only other district in northwestern Pennsylvania that has “You Can Fly,” according to Conneaut Superintendent Jarrin Sperry. The four-year program covers science and mathematics credits through training in geometry, trigonometry, physics and engineering as well as hands-on applications through model building. The goal of the program is to prepare students to take the drone certification test or enter flight school to obtain a pilot’s license.
“Between now and 2025, there’s going to be over 600,000 jobs available in the airline industry, from mechanics to pilots to people that work in the hangars, terminals, etc.,” Sperry said in an interview. “The shortage is going to be tremendous. So AOPA, who’s also partnered with Boeing, Lockheed Martin, etc. — they’re making this push.”
The program curriculum is essentially free, Sperry said, but there must be teachers trained specifically to oversee the courses. Bill Stevenson, a physics teacher at CASH, went to Tennessee for a few days to learn about the program.
Sperry and Stevenson met with middle school students to explain the four-year commitment and the opportunities in aviation as well as the military sector that early training would improve.
Stevenson said Conneaut originally became involved when an employee at Port Meadville Airport brought the “You Can Fly” program to the district’s attention as a worthwhile curriculum. Stevenson said it has already caught on in states like Kentucky, Tennessee and California.
According to AOPA’s curriculum, the first year of the course is an introduction to aviation as students learn about engineering practices, problem solving and the technological progress of the aerospace industry as well as career options and issues in the field. Stevenson said physics comes in with the creation of model aircraft such as hot air balloons and rockets. The first year of the course was approved by the board as a science credit, and “You Can Fly” was set as a core subject.
“In the physics program, we do some fundamentals of flight like thrust and lift and drag and aerodynamics,” Stevenson said. “This is a little more hands-on in that aspect. We’ll be building (model) wind tunnels and airfoils and not just learning about the physics behind those but actually the engineering behind that shaping the wing, what happens when you bend or twist it or the real dynamics of flight.”
After two years, Stevenson mentioned the possibility that, given sufficient demand, there may be two separate courses, one for those interested in going on to flight school and another for those looking to earn their drone certification. That was a discussion for the future, he said.
It was recommended to stick with the flight school track, which would otherwise leave potential drone licensees “amply prepared” to take their certification test.
As a physics teacher, Stevenson said he was “thrilled” the program blends theoretical discussion with hands-on projects but noted it wouldn’t be until around February, during course selection, when he would find out the number of students continuing to pursue “You Can Fly.”
“The AOPA organization has visited us twice already, and we’re very excited,” Sperry said. “One of their main sponsors is probably going to bring a plane out at some point in time either fall or late spring and have the kids up in the air.”
Stevenson also said it wasn’t too late to sign up for the first year and recommended interested students to call the high school for registration options.