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School’s aviation program taking off

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Sky is the limit for Washington County students putting science to the test

By Special to The Sun

Four years after its creation, the Washington County High School aviation program is going strong.
Students from a variety of backgrounds, and with a wide variety of interests within aviation, come together to learn aviation basics and put some of that knowledge to the test.

According to the program’s lone teacher, Kim Mattingly, students have access to seven flight simulators. “I’ll teach a lesson on an aerodynamic concept… or what parts of the plane move, then they get to do a simulation activity that complements the lesson,” she said.
Students can, for example, learn step-by-step how to reach a certain altitude, or how to do certain midair maneuvers.

Lessons aren’t just centered around private and commercial planes, though. With rising interest in drone aircraft, students also have the chance to learn to use and program unmanned aircraft. “This year, some of the upper-level students built and programmed a remote control plane, that we flew and crashed and repaired, and flew again,” Mattingly said. As part of the program, the school has a few drones students can experiment with.

Early on in the program, she added, students took part in a wing-design competition. And another competition is coming up in January. “They’re getting ready to start a digital and online competition with some other schools with an aircraft design challenge to create aircraft that are maneuverable or stable,” Mattingly said.

That competition — the General Aviation Manufacturers Association Aviation Design Challenge — will pit the Washington County High School students against students from more than 130 other schools around the nation. The students will work through a “Flay to Learn” curriculum and submit a project by April. Students will be judged on their aircraft’s design and performance while completing a specific task, Mattingly said.

To date, there are 42 students in the program, and Mattingly said their interests are varied. Some are interested in learning to fly planes – six are taking private flight instruction at the Lebanon-Springfield Airport. Others are interested in becoming aircraft mechanics. Some have developed an interest in the engineering side of aviation. And still, others are more interested in drones.

What draws the students to the program can be as simple as seeing current students doing fun projects. And, Mattingly said, the classroom has a lot of neat equipment. “Once they get in the class, students realize it isn’t fun all the time and that there are some challenging concepts to learn,” she said. “Aviation is a growing industry where students can work their way into high-paying and in-demand careers — that may or may not involve flying a plane.”

Students who take part in the program for three or four years have the chance to take a written test for manned or unmanned pilot certification. “This saves the student money, and allows them to earn ‘career ready’ status in aviation,” Mattingly said. “Whether a student is interested in a technical career, four-year degree program, or military service, having passed their written exams as a high school student gives them a huge head start.”

This semester alone, six students have put time in flying at the Lebanon-Springfield Airport. Neryah Niewadomski earned her private pilot’s license. Samuel Goins not only did solo flights, but he earned his unmanned pilot’s license and offers drone photography services. And Mattingly, too, has been working toward her own pilot’s license.

With space for the aviation program in the district’s TEL center, Mattingly sees a bright future for the program.
“As people become more aware of the opportunities that exist, I see the aviation program continuing to grow,” she said.