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Pilot program teaches Valpo students to fly
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Pilot program teaches Valpo students to fly

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VALPARAISO — Four Valparaiso High School students are getting ready to fly the coop with the aid of flight instruction that began this year.

The coursework should help them soar above their peers — perhaps literally — when they go on to college or a career in aviation following high school graduation.

Olivia Lozano and Emily Phelps, both juniors, hope to earn pilot’s licenses upon completion of the flight instruction.

“Aerospace is probably our second most popular class after engineering,” VHS flight instructor Tarik El-Naggar said. A cybersecurity course is in the works for next year.

The Aviation Flight course is the result of a Valparaiso Redevelopment Challenge Grant of around $400,000 and a taxpayer-approved boost to the school district’s property tax revenue.

“This year, we didn’t even have the course listed, and four students signed up instantly,” El-Naggar said.

A lot of students have expressed their eagerness to take the course, designed for juniors, next year.

“It’s pretty cool. We’ve been actually on them for about a month,” student Maxwell Trowbridge said of the course's flight simulators. “It’s pretty cool being able to fly.”

Fellow senior David Combs watched while Trowbridge was preparing to take off from a virtual version of the Valparaiso airport. “I don’t want to be a backseat driver, but your flaps are down,” Combs said.

The students help each other as they operate the simulators.

Trowbridge hopes to study engineering or aeronautics at Purdue University when he graduates. He wants to gain certification to fly several types of planes. His uncle in the Air Force will no doubt be proud of his nephew.

“Right now, the whole aviation industry is having a workforce shortage,” said Porter County Regional Airport Director Kyle Kuebler. “The program is very timely in regard to that.”

The airline industry used to have a steady flow of pilots from the military, but that’s drying up, he said. The military is now using more drones, and drone pilots are strongly encouraged to stay in the armed forces.

The aviation field needs more people to serve as ground crews, pilots and operations professionals, he said.

The Federal Aviation Administration-approved flight simulators at VHS are impressive, Kuebler said.

El-Naggar said the course includes building a 3-D model of an airport to help students understand operations and runway approaches better.

Join Cpl. Jerry Patrick, as he patrols the hallways of Lake Central and Kahler Middle School.

The technology program at VHS also includes a cybercafe, to give students a better taste of college, 3D printers, 3D laser cutters for a variety of materials, robotics — one student just finished programming a robot to make deliveries to rooms throughout the large high school — and a two-story arena for flying drones.

Students have put the windows on some of the rooms to good use, writing erasable notes on the glass as they animatedly work on projects.

The Aviation Flight course begins with ground school training created by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association.

“Aviation Flight provides students with the foundation for advanced exploration of several areas within the aviation industry,” El-Naggar said.

After completing the course, students can take one of two Federal Aviation Administration tests: the Private Pilot Knowledge Test or the Part 107 Remote Pilot Knowledge Test.

“This course is cutting-edge in high school curriculum. It gives our students a competitive advantage as they prepare for life beyond high school,” Assistant Superintendent for Secondary Education Nick Allison said.

The course also covers basic aerodynamics, flight physiology and a basic working knowledge of aircraft power plants and their construction.