A new partnership is helping the McAlester schools aviation program soar even higher.
McAlester Public School Board of Education members recently approved a partnership with Tango Flight, Inc., that made the district just one of three across the state to offer an aviation program that will teach students how to build an airplane — and fly it.
“The thought of having an airplane at our building is a little out of this world to me but if we’re the third one to do it in Oklahoma, that’s amazing to me,” Rodriguez said.
MHS began teaching aviation in 2018, added aeronautics I in fall 2019 through a partnership with the Aircraft Owners & Pilots Association, and added aeronautics II in fall 2020.
Tango Flight, Inc., which started in 2016, is an educational nonprofit with a goal of inspiring the next generation of engineers, pilots, aviation mechanics and technicians.
The corporation’s proprietary curriculum offers hands-on training and students can apply classroom knowledge to building an FAA certified airplane — which realistically will take two years to build before it can take off from the McAlester Regional Airport.
Rodriguez said Tango Flight presents an opportunity to take the district’s aviation program to another level and open more possibilities for students.
“It’s growing in momentum and the partnerships that this has created for McAlester Public Schools is really cool,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez said the school partnered with the city of McAlester to have the regional airport manager teach an aviation class through the program. She said it helped having a professional teach the course through the program with years of experience in the field.
She said growing the aviation program will offer more career paths for students — citing an AOPA report showing a 30-percent increase in aviation job posts compared to pre-pandemic numbers.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the 2020 media pay for airline and commercial pilots was $130,440 annually — and predicts 11-percent employment growth in the field from 2020-2030.
Boeing’s latest Pilot and Technician Outlook predicts there will be 612,000 new pilots and 626,000 new maintenance technicians over the next 20 years.
“And the thing I like about Tango Flight is it’s not just for pilots,” Rodriguez said. “It’s for kids who may want to be mechanics. It’s for kids who may want to be engineers.”
Tango Flight’s curriculum combines aviation and avionics to teach the fundamentals and mechanics of aircraft and avionics equipment.
The nonprofit partnered with Wichita State University and the Airbus Foundation to create the curriculum focused on mechanical, electrical and engineering foundation.
Students will learn how to build an RV-12iS — a two-seat all-metal side-by-side plane with a span of 26’9” and length of 19’11”.
The program also offers students mentorship from current or retired aviation professionals.
“It’s an essential part of the program,” Rodriguez said, referring to mentorships. “That’s where the magic happens.”
McAlester was already one of five Oklahoma schools participating in the “You Can Fly” four-year curriculum developed by the AOPA.
Oklahoma is ranked third for implementing AOPA curriculum with more than 30 schools participating after several years of the Oklahoma Aeronautics Commission advocating for it.
Five schools were named “Aviation High Schools of Excellence” after the commission was awarded a Federal Aviation Administration Workforce Development Grant in late 2021. Ada High School, McAlester High School, Mustang High School, Okmulgee High School, and Pryor High School were all early adopters of the AOPA program.