Oakland – Waterford students have eyes on the sky

Flight school new program for wannabe pilots
A handful of juniors at Waterford Kettering High School are proving to be high achievers — really high achievers. They soon will be soaring in single-engine Cessna 172s, as part of a new district program to cultivate wannabe pilots and aircraft mechanics before they even get out of high school. By the time the five 16-year-olds currently in the program graduate in June 2011, they will be licensed private pilots.

The students so far have been studying aviation history and getting to know the planes parked outside Flight 101, the private flying school at Oakland County International Airport that is contracting with the Waterford School District to teach the kids.

Next semester, they will begin intensive ground school. And once completed, will start flying in simulators, then actual planes.

Sometime in their senior year, they will fly solo.

The program is limited to eight students, but in this first semester, only five applied. However, now that word has gotten out among the student body, there’s more interest and next year’s classes are expected to fill up quickly, school officials said.

“Most are like, ‘Hey, I wished I had signed up for that,’ ” said aspiring pilot and program participant Tyler Spence.

The students are in flight school at the airport from 12:45 to 2:10 p.m. three days a week. They spend many more hours studying at home — on top of their regular studies. As part of the program, they earn credits in science and technology toward their high school diplomas.

A pilot’s license can open many doors for a young graduate, said certified flight instructor Heather Jordan, who is teaching the Kettering kids. They can continue to study flying and go on to become commercial pilots. Some become instructors. And some will ultimately go into aircraft mechanics, a well-paying high-skill trade, she said.

Student Nikole Fisher said she plans to be an air-traffic controller and thinks a pilot’s license will help.

Justin Smolinski said he looks forward to the day he can take his parents up in a plane.

“Then I’ll show them some stalls,” he said, prompting his fellow students to laugh.