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Aviation Club Sets Grand Rapids Kids' Sights on Sky and Beyond

Young Aviators clubs run by the nonprofit West Michigan Flight Academy are stoking Grand Rapids kids' interest in becoming licensed pilots by teaching them personal habits and skills they will need to realize such ambitions. Requirements of participation in the club include adhering to a strict dress code, which flight academy founder Patrick Johnson says is symbolic of the order necessary to guarantee safety in flight. Johnson, a Grand Rapids Community College dance instructor, holds a commercial pilot's license, and the bulk of the academy's first-year programming has been sponsored by the Sabastian Foundation. Johnson says his motivation to start the academy was to improve the relevance of math and science to students, which he felt could be encouraged by placing instruction in the context of flight lessons. Johnson and two assistants teach flight, navigation, and air traffic control principles in the clubs, and among students' activities are tours of airport flight towers, flights in a small plane, flying kites and remote-controlled planes, and building and launching rockets. Every continuing club member's goal is to earn a pilot's license and graduate from high school. One academy member, 10-year-old Ben VandenBos, has written a custom educational map designed to end with his admission into the U.S. Air Force. "He tells everybody he'll be flying solo by high school," says his mother. "He plans to be a licensed pilot by the time he graduates, and I don't doubt that he will."

August 20, 2009

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