For Aspiring Aviators, Programs Take Wing Across Alaska
May 15, 2014
  • Share
  • According to a 2012 Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities fact sheet, there are more than 47,000 jobs related to aviation in Alaska. That figure represents 10 percent of the state’s workforce and 8 percent of the economy. As the fifth-largest employment sector in Alaska, aviation is an obvious choice for future careers among Alaska youth. This professional interest has spurred growth among pre-collegiate aviation programs across the state and involving numerous schools, independent groups, career fairs and, in the future, on-the-job training.

    The Real World Design Challenge, a national aeronautical engineering competition, is open to teams of high school students from across the country. Supported by the Federal Aviation Administration, teams receive free software to complete their design projects. It was just announced that Highland Technical Charter School in Anchorage will be the state representative at the national competition in November for the third straight year. Other schools that competed regionally in 2014 were Whale Pass High School, Burchell and Wasilla high schools in Wasilla, Nenana City High School and North Pole High School.

    The most visible aviation program is likely the actual aircraft construction tackled in the Build A Plane projects.  In 2012 Hooper Bay School completed a Thorpe T211 Light Sport, and in 2011 a RANS S-6 Coyote II kit plane was certified and test-flown by the students in Chevak High School. Begich Middle School in Anchorage also completed an ultralight model to hang from the ceiling in its facility several years ago.
    In Talkeetna, an ongoing project involves the rebuild of a donated Cherokee Six that was destroyed in an accident and the Northwest Alaska Career and Technical Education Center in Nome has received its own Piper aircraft and is at work raising funds to pursue an curriculum-based approach working with the plane that will cross several different disciplines.

    Another multidisciplinary approach is embraced by the AvStem project, which originated in Hooper Bay and Chevak. Expanding from the lessons learned in the Build A Plane projects there, teachers Grant Funk and Ryan Walker entered into a partnership with the Iditarod Area School District and Iditarod Distance Learning Center to make the AvStem math and science curriculum available to more students. This six-year program seeks to “form a foundation of aviation knowledge that will be useful in science, technology, engineering, and math” and thus provide its graduates with employable skills for futures in the aviation and aerospace industries.

    Multiple ground school and flight training programs are available at schools across the state including Service High School, Nenana High School and the Galena Interior Learning Academy. The King Career Center in Anchorage has a two-semester program that focuses not only on the information required for the FAA private pilot written exam, but emphasizes skills necessary for careers in air traffic control as well.

    This summer there will again be Aviation Career Education Academy summer camps in three Alaska locations: the Spenard Community Recreation Center in Anchorage, the Lower Kuskokwim School

    District ACE Academy in Bethel, and at Russian Jack Springs Park in Anchorage. The ACE academies provide middle and high school students with a variety of opportunities unique to each area from using flight simulators, to planning flights, working on aircraft and actually flying. ACE is also a national program, supported by the FAA. According to their records, 199 Alaska students participated in ACE programs in 2013.

    The FAA is currently working on a job shadowing program that will connect high school students with professionals in the fields of maintenance, avionics and engineering. The “Walk in My Boots” program intends to partner between schools and maintenance facilities, and a successful pilot program in Connecticut with the Boeing Corp. has been completed.

    Tom George with the Alaska Region of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association is building a database of active pre-collegiate aviation programs that can be used as a resource for Alaska communities and schools seeking to invest in this education for its young people. You can contact him to add your youth program if you do not see it listed.

    The contact for the Real World Design Challenge is Bjorn Wolter with the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development. The FAA education contact for information on several of these programs is Angie Slingluff.
    Contact Colleen Mondor at colleen(at)