She sat in the cockpit of the small, single-engine Cherokee Arrow airplane and stared at the dashboard controls before glancing out the window.
Ashley Hanback, a Bowsher High School freshman, began thinking about the stories her grandfather, a former pilot, used to tell her when he was still alive.
“My grandfather flew a plane in the war,” the 15-year-old girl said while sitting in the idle plane that sat inside the Toledo Public Schools Aviation Center. “I always wondered what that was like.”
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Ms. Hanback was among 40 high school students from the Toledo Public Schools who visited the Aviation Center, 1179 West Airport Service Rd. at Toledo Express Airport, on Friday to learn more about the district’s Aviation Technician Program.
Upon completion of the three-year program, students can earn not just a high school diploma, but also up to 50 college credits and Federal Aviation Administration mechanic certification.
The federal certification gives students excellent chances to find aviation-industry jobs with typical starting pay around $45,000 to $50,000, said Brad McDonald, an aviation maintenance instructor.
“The job market is huge,” Mr. McDonald said. “The last big hiring block was during Vietnam. More than half of the current technicians are 61 years or older. More than 60 percent will be retiring within the next eight years.”
About two thirds of the students who visited the center Friday raised their hands when asked if they planned to attend college after graduating high school.
“I’m all for going to college,” Mr. McDonald said. “But what I don’t want is for you to go $100,000 in debt, and maybe get a job paying $23,000 after four years of college.”
One advantage of the aviation technician program, he said, is that students can earn good salaries after graduating high school, then after a couple of years get employer reimbursement for taking college courses.
Many people think an aviation technician spends all day working on engines, said Richard Naves, the program’s director.
But the field encompasses much more than that. Technicians work on various parts of planes and helicopters, he said. Modern technology also requires today’s technicians to have a strong math and science knowledge.
Students were shown how aircraft landing gear and engine fuel and cooling systems work, got an up-close look at airplane propellers, and learned how ice is removed from planes' wings during flight.
Saul Momjaraz, a Waite High School freshman, was confident at first when he sat down and grabbed a flight simulator's controls, but about 20 crash landings later, he seemed a little flabbergasted.
“I’m trying to turn,” the frustrated 15-year-old boy told a nearby instructor.
“Oh, you’re turning — right into the Maumee River,” Mr. Naves told him with a chuckle.
By the end of the visit, Shane Wilson, a 16-year-old Start High School freshman, was ready to sign up for the program.
“I think it’s pretty good,” he said of the Aviation Center tour. “Some people aren’t interested in things because they aren’t familiar with them. I wasn’t interested in airplanes until today. Now I am. The instructors make education sound interesting, because you can fix planes and you know that you’re helping people; and it pays good.”
Students are introduced to the program during junior high and their freshman year, school officials said. Enrollment is not allowed until students’ sophomore years, and they must maintain 3.0 grade-point averages to stay in the program, Mr. McDonald said.
The program is also open to students from other districts, Mr. McDonald said.
For more information, contact Mr. McDonald or Mr. Naves at 419-865-4651, or email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
Contact Federico Martinez at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6154.