McAlester Aeronautics program continues to soar

September 15—Max Gayton says a new program at McAlester High School will help him achieve his career goal.

The MHS senior said he wanted to become an airplane technician, so he enrolled in the district’s aviation program and is part of the new course teaching students how to build and fly an airplane.

“It’s really cool and I like the class,” Gayton said. “I want to become an aircraft technician and it’s a way to start learning the things I need to know while I’m in high school.

Blake Wilt, another MHS senior, said he signed up for the course because he enjoys working on cars and plans to become a mechanic.

But he said the program presented him with more potential career paths.

“I love working in mechanics and it’s a great way to give me more options,” he said.

MHS began offering 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.

Amy Shaw, a STEM teacher, said students learn terminology and parts for airplanes and unmanned aircraft in the first two aeronautics classes. She said the courses also introduce students to possible career paths in the growing aviation industry.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the average 2020 salary for airline and commercial pilots was $130,440 per year — and projects 11% job growth in the field from 2020 to 2030.

Boeing’s latest Pilot and Technician Outlook predicts 612,000 new pilots and 626,000 new maintenance technicians over the next 20 years.

Shaw said the program aims to provide students with options after graduation.

“I want to give them as many viable options as possible,” Shaw said.

The program has expanded to offer four flight simulators and 10 drones to the more than 80 registered students.

MPS received a grant for drones and drone cages, which are 12×12 cages to keep allowing students to maneuver drones in a safe space.

Shaw teaches three levels of aeronautics, with students learning various aspects of flight leading up to the capstone course where they build and fly an airplane.

MPS partnered last spring with Tango Flight, Inc. to become one of three programs across the state to offer a program teaching students how to build and fly an airplane.

Tango Flight, Inc., which began in 2016, is an educational nonprofit organization that aims to inspire the next generation of aviation engineers, pilots, mechanics, and technicians.

The organization’s program provides hands-on training, and students can apply their knowledge in the classroom to build an FAA-certified aircraft.

Tango Flight’s curriculum combines aviation and avionics to teach the fundamentals and mechanics of aircraft and avionics equipment.

The nonprofit organization partnered with Wichita State University and the Airbus Foundation to create the program focused on the basics of mechanics, electricity and engineering.

McAlester Regional Airport manager Chase Tindle started last year as an assistant instructor in the district as part of a school-city partnership. Last year, some students received scholarships to take flight training at the airport – and this year the program focuses on learning how to build an airplane.

“We do a lot of class work on different parts of the plane, different structures, the history of the plane,” Tindle said. “We also cover some principles of aviation math and physics.

“But the exciting part of the class is actually building an airplane,” Tindle said.

Students learn to build an RV-12iS – an all-metal two-seat side-by-side aircraft with a 26’9″ wingspan and 19’11” length.

All students will be able to work on the plane and take a flight after passing the inspection and the project will take about two years.

Tindle said the program gives students the opportunity to learn and connect with mentors.

“We’re really excited and I think it’s a great program,” Tindle said.

McAlester was already one of five Oklahoma schools participating in the four-year “You Can Fly” program developed by AOPA.

Oklahoma is ranked third in implementing the AOPA program with more than 30 schools participating after several years of advocacy by the Oklahoma Aeronautical Commission.

McAlester is also one of five schools named “Aviation High Schools of Excellence” after the commission received a workforce development grant from the Federal Aviation Administration in late 2021.

Contact Adrian O’Hanlon III at [email protected]


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