Students at Raisbeck Aviation High School near Seattle listened intently during a hands-on ground school class as they learned to compute speed and wind correction angle on manual E6B flight calculators. Chatter filled the room as 21 students ages 14 to 18 plotted points and manipulated wheels to determine an answer. They struggled with the nonelectric handheld device and thumbed through dog-eared copies of Jeppesen’s Private Pilot flight training manual for clues.
“I got 10, did everyone else get 10?” asked a student as the classroom came alive. Others hunched over their “whiz wheels” trying to coax answers before the class moved on to more challenging calculations.
Raisbeck students are surrounded by aviation. A red experimental amateur-built aircraft hung from a hallway rafter and a retired Boeing 747 was visible outside a window at the nearby Museum of Flight. The theme continued inside the classroom with posters from the Reno air races, stacks of FAR/AIM books, and models of famous World War II aircraft poking out of every nook and cranny.
“The aerospace industry really built our economy in the Northwest,” said Raisbeck Principal Therese Tipton. “When you have Boeing and Alaska Airlines and hundreds of companies that contribute to our economic success, preparing our students for those types of jobs is very exciting.”
The school has been teaching science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) curricula for several years as other high schools ramped up for what experts see as an explosion of opportunity for future aviators.
A Boeing study revealed the potential for nearly 1.3 million pilots and maintenance personnel in the next 20 years—617,000 pilots and 679,000 technicians. To help answer that call, AOPA and Purdue University announced a partnership to bring STEM-based aviation coursework to high school students nationwide, and the new program will be presented at the association’s second annual High School Aviation Symposium Nov. 6 and 7 in Seattle.
Teachers said that making aviation in the classroom interesting for kids without a desire to be pilots was a challenge. However, once students were introduced to aviation, many continued their studies away from school by flying simulators at home or by taking flying lessons, instructors said.
One of the students exposed to aviation with Raisbeck’s STEM-based teaching techniques hopes to use those skills to become a career pilot.
Owen Yeasting, 18, said his classes at the high school helped set his sights on a job inside a cockpit. Yeasting’s schoolwork led to a summer flight academy and “nine straight days of flying in the morning and the afternoon” helped instill the confidence he needed to take on Seattle’s complicated airspace for his solo. “What’s great is that my CFI is the school’s calculus teacher,” he told AOPA, “and he’s an experienced CFI with thousands of hours and a seaplane rating, IFR, commercial, all that stuff, and he’s a really great instructor.”
Yeasting applied to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s Prescott, Arizona, campus and enrolled in the college’s online classes as soon as he could. “The whole experience at Raisbeck has definitely accelerated everything for me as compared to your average public high school,” he said.
For the 2016 school year Tipton said the school opened its doors to a county-wide lottery “with a lens of equity for aerospace,” that would afford aviation opportunities to a diverse population of students. In past years, “about 350 students have applied for about 100 openings in the freshman class,” wrote the The Seattle Times when the school moved into its new home in 2013. The hope, said Tipton, is that more young people would be exposed to the science and math-based curricula that provide solid building blocks for the aerospace world.
The high school partnered with the Museum of Flight for a variety of programs including the current ground school, and students also can participate in internships at the museum. “It’s an amazing opportunity,” said Tipton.
Many of Raisbeck’s students have already taken their STEM-based learning to the next level and interned with engineers, biochemists, and programmers, as well as at nearby airports and aerospace businesses, she said.
“Raisbeck High School brings students together who share a passion for aviation,” Bill Ayer, the retired chairman and CEO of Alaska Air Group, wrote in an email to AOPA. He said the aviation high school offers students opportunities to “develop their knowledge, skills, and a future network that can lead to college and a great career.”