Aero Academy launches 'pilot' program at Mt. Hood adventure school
For decades, schools across the country have been teaching students the 'three R's' — reading, writing and arithmetic.
This summer, a Hillsboro flight school is hoping to add a fourth: aeronautics.
Hillsboro Aero Academy, the state's largest flight school, is partnering with a Mt. Hood-based boarding school to teach students to fly, while they earn their high school diplomas.
The program launches in June at Windells Academy, a boarding school in Welches focused on student athletes. The school is launching a seven-week pilot program this June, with plans to roll out a four-year high school program this tall.
"This summer's class is really a taster for the kids," said Hillsboro Aero chief executive officer Jon Hay. "If kids like the taste of that, they could go on to what would be a high school diploma focused on aviation."
If the seven-week course proves successful, plans are in the works to launch a four-year graduation program at the school this fall. Students would earn a high school diploma while working toward receiving their pilot's license.
The hope, officials say, is to inspire a new generation of pilots.
Demand high for pilots
The high school program comes at a time of great demand for pilots across the country. A shortage of pilots is already being felt across the globe, and more than a half-million new pilots needed over the next two decades, according to Boeing. In the U.S. alone, more than 117,000 new pilots are needed to meet demand.
Last year, Hillsboro Aero partnered with Horizon Air, which agreed to help pay to train future pilots.
Students in the Horizon Air program are offered jobs at the airline upon graduation.
"The beauty of this program is that we will be able to train high school student to become airplane and helicopter pilots, preparing them for a career that has tremendous growth prospects well into the future," said English, a certificated pilot himself.
Hay doesn't see anything unusual about teaching 14-year-olds how to fly. Under federal law, children as young as 14 are able to receive their license to pilot gliders. Hay said he has seen students at Hillsboro Aero learn to fly as teenagers before, in order to get a leg up on competition later in life.
"We've had kids take their courses during high school and earn their private pilot's license for their 17th birthday, which as soon as they can take their tests," he said. "Then they earn their commercial pilot's license by the time they're 18."
By teaching students to fly as early as possible, Hay said, commercial pilots are able to get into the industry sooner, and earn more throughout their lives.
"In aviation, especially at the airlines, everything is based on your seniority," Hay said. "The sooner you can get started in the field, the sooner you can start climbing that mountain."
Hay, who grew up in the Gresham-Barlow School District, spent his childhood playing flight simulators before he earned his pilot's license. He said many people know by the time they reach high school whether they want to become a commercial pilot. Today's kids already have a leg up on learning to fly, he said, thanks to video games and flight simulators.
"I hovered on my first helicopter lesson," he said. "It wasn't because I was a great student, it was because I had hundreds of hours under my belt in Microsoft Flight Simulator before I ever stepped foot in an aircraft."
Students to study in Troutdale
The program is the nation's first boarding school program aimed at teaching students to fly, Hay said, though other Oregon high schools have offered students the chance to learn to fly in the past. The Sisters School District in Central Oregon has offered a flight science program since 2013.
Aviation is a departure from Windells' usual course offerings. Since the 1980s, Windells Academy has offered high school students the chance to hone their skills in snowboarding, freestyle skiing and skateboarding. The school caters to students who can focus on year-round athletic training, while taking classes through Gresham-based online charter school Metro East Web Academy.
"Our students are driven and talented athletes with Olympic and X-Games prospects, but now we are able to offer our students the opportunity to train for a career in a blossoming industry," Windells Academy president Kevin English.
Olympic snowboarder Nick Goepper attended the school. Goepper is currently competing at the Winter Olympics in South Korea.
"Windells already has people come from all over the country to learn higher-end skateboarding or downhill skiing," Hay said. "They specialize in those sports. We're doing the same thing, but they spend that time with us learning to fly."
Much of the work will be on the ground, as students learn the basics of aerodynamics and aircraft operations. The student-pilots will attend classes and fly out of Hillsboro Aero's facility at the Troutdale Airport in Multnomah County.
"We are truly pleased to be working with Windells on this project," Hay said. "The synergies are phenomenal — both organizations have a very clear focus on offering a personalized approach to coaching and training for every student."
Editor's Note: This article incorrectly spelled the name of Hillsboro Aero Academy CEO Jon Hay.
By Geoff Pursinger
Editor, Hillsboro Tribune
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