Magazine article Techniques

YOUNG MINDS Take Flight

Magazine article Techniques

YOUNG MINDS Take Flight

Article excerpt

I grew up in a small rural Texas town with a county airport. At an early age, my friends and I worked on lawn mowers and mowed lawns to make spending money. Even in middle school, my bicycle was my "ride;" it took me everywhere and anywhere I wanted to go in Fredericksburg, Texas, and it was up to me and the local Western Auto store to keep it running. I helped some of my older friends work on their cars... They didn't run well but we always knew they were just a few cranks away from being fine-tuned racing machines.

We lived in a hands-on world, but I was even more curious about airplanes. We would regularly make the several-miles-long ride out to the edge of town to visit the local airport. A few patient older gentlemen, mostly experienced pilots, would let me tinker around with their aircraft. I didn't know it at the time, but I had mentors, and my mind was taking flight with the possibilities for the future. I realize now:

This was my career and technical education (CTE). Flying has been a dream for kids since the Wright brothers took to the legendary wind-swept skies above Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. But now, aviation and aerospace careers are abundant, and teaching science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and CTE at the high-school level is one way that schools are adapting to the growing industry demand for a technical workforce.

In 2016, Dan Weyant, a high school engineering teacher for Georgetown Independent School District (GISD), contacted me with an idea: He wanted, and had obtained approval to start an engineering class designed to build a flying airplane - a Van's RV-12 experimental light-sport kit plane - in the school's new CTE lab. If only I had had that opportunity when I was young!

Hands-on Learning

A few years earlier, in 2013, Weyant worked with the city's economic development department to purchase advanced CTE lab equipment for Georgetown and East View High Schools (EVHS) in Georgetown; the city grant included funds not only for basic tools, but also for numerical control (NC) machining tools, 3-D printers, lathes and other equipment that would allow advanced engineering students to gain real-world experience. The CTE lab was to share space with the industrial and vocational arts department to create a powerful engineering and vocational education facility. From engineering design, to NC machining, to welding, the new hands-on facility would serve college-bound engineering students, CTE trade-school bound students, and those others who planned to enter the workforce soon after graduation.

Georgetown, about 30 miles north of Austin, was a rural agricultural town for most of its history, but the metropolitan area's explosive growth and the developing technology clusters pushed outward into all of the smaller, formerly agricultural communities. The dwindling number of students raised on farms and ranches still knew how to use tools, but most now are urbanized and computer-savvy. They lack the hands-on skill to make and fix things like prior generations. That was about to change.

Although the Georgetown Independent School District was very supportive, liability constraints would not allow it to own and operate aircraft. So, at the end of summer 2016, Tango Flight, a nonprofit with a mission to fund, procure and own the RV-12, was launched. The community, and especially the pilots and aircraft builders in the area, quickly coalesced around the project. A small team of businessmen and pilots negotiated a Memorandum of Agreement to govern the relationship between the school district and Tango Flight. At the same time, many airplane pilots and craftsmen, mostly from the local chapter of the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA), formed a group to help supervise construction. The students would build the airplane, but experienced mentors would volunteer to work with them at the school, often one-on-one, to ensure proper construction and safety compliance. …

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