A Florida school district’s newest career-education offering is an aerospace technology class that will use five AOPA Jays by Redbird to provide an exciting, realistic flight-training experience.
Classes began Aug. 8 at Fernandina Beach High School, with 12 students from the senior and junior classes signed up for the new course selection in the school’s science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) curriculum, said Brent Lemond, director of career and adult education for the Nassau County School District.
The course will prepare students for the private pilot knowledge test, and will explore aviation career choices.
“The biggest role the Jay is going to play is to give that real-world excitement to the classroom,” Lemond said in a phone interview.
The Jay flight-training device supports training and proficiency with capabilities allowing selection of various aircraft and conditions. It features a scenario mode, and a built-in Web browser to access video or other downloads. The Jay is built by Redbird Flight Simulations of Austin, Texas.
Aviation was already an established presence in communities and schools in Nassau County, located in Florida’s northeast corner. Lemond credited the outreach efforts of a local aviation group, the Friends of Fernandina Aviation for raising awareness of aviation as a career option, and for stimulating students’ interest with appearances in classrooms to talk about career opportunities and introduce basic flight principles.
“There are a lot of retired pilots and air traffic controllers that are in that group, and they just really wanted to give back,” Lemond said.
Networking with the local aviation community led Lemond to McGill Aviation, a Fernandina Beach Municipal Airport FBO, and Keoki Gray, a flight instructor and airframe-and-power plant mechanic with inspection authorization, who agreed to teach the course.
“Half of the people that learned to fly around here learned to fly from him,” Lemond said.
Gray, who logs 150 to 200 hours a year giving flight instruction, and is active in aircraft maintenance, told AOPA that the first quarter of the new course will consist of ground school for the knowledge test. The succeeding three quarters will examine “different facets of available aerospace careers” including ground support, development and design, and flight-crew careers.
As any flight instructor knows, learning is a two-way street, and Gray, who has begun a personal project to achieve certification as a “full-fledged teacher,” has gained much respect for his fellow educators.
“I had no idea how difficult a teacher’s job really is,” he said. “I have a lot of respect for the folks who are teaching full time. I don’t know how they do it.”
Lemond said he envisions expanding the program after the first year, and is looking into adding a flight component.
He expressed confidence that students’ enthusiasm for the class—and the thrill of hands-on aviation experience—would increase demand for aerospace education at Fernandina Beach High.
“Once word gets out about it, next year we’ll probably add classes, and have underclassmen in it as well,” he said.