Fifteen high school students are getting ready to take flight through the Cumberland County school system’s new aviation program.
If they complete the program, they can earn a private pilot license and be a step closer to a career in aviation after graduation.
“I don’t plan to stop here,” said Kristaphor Bowman, a junior at Cumberland County High School, following a scholarship signing event Wednesday. He hopes to continue his education with a degree in aviation from Middle Tennessee State University and become a professional pilot.
Jaylee Morse, a sophomore at Stone Memorial High School, is excited to be able to start flying. She discovered aviation through a career exploration class last year.
“I fell in love with flying in the simulator,” she said.
She plans to join the U.S. Navy and fly fighter jets.
Sydney Rally, a freshman at SMHS, was excited to be accepted into the new program.
“It’s amazing,” she said. “My goal is to become a cargo pilot, and this is a major step toward my career.”
The program will provide full scholarships for students to complete classroom work and flight training to earn their private pilot’s license.
“The scholarship will cover 100% of expenses from start to finish of a student’s license,” said Scott Maddox, supervisor of Career and Technical Education and 9-12 curriculum and instruction.
The value of the scholarship is estimated at $8,000 to $10,000 per student, with hopes of licensing 45 students during the two years of grant funding.
CCHS students accepted in the program are Bowman, Joseph Baker, Ezekiel Hayes, BreOnna Inman, Logan Lanzi and Meilin Moreno Perea.
SMHS students are Mya Cook, Connor Delaney, Deven Dothard, Isabell Ferguson, William Magnusson, Kevin Manning, Trinity McGlaun, Morse and Rally.
The program is funded through the Tennessee Department of Education’s Innovative High School Models grant program. Cumberland County was one of 21 schools receiving grants from the $30 million program last spring, with $974,100 awarded to support the two-year program.
Funds will be used for flight training for the students and also an investment in flight simulators at both schools and Crossville Memorial Airport.
Maddox explained the grant needed to be innovative, linked to the job market and linked to response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We knew there was a shortage of pilots, a shortage of mechanics,” Maddox said, adding the school system is developing apprentice programs for aviation mechanics.
“Our dream was to offer this to students who have a dream of becoming a pilot,” Maddox continued. But, he noted, many families cannot afford the cost of pilot training. “I wanted to reach out and make sure this was something that kids who have that desire have that opportunity.”
The school system will be working with Azure Flight Support to provide flight training for students. Azure is the Fixed-Based Operator for Crossville Memorial Airport.
“When I presented this last spring, we started brainstorming to see if we could make this happen,” Maddox said. “It’s because of this partnership that we’re able to offer this to our students.”
Allen Howell, a partner in Azure Flight Support, said he was unaware of another program like the scholarship program being offered in Cumberland County, and few such opportunities in the country.
“This is a very unique opportunity,” Howell said.
Howell is a second-generation aviator. His father retired from flying last year with 45,000 hours of flight time.
“If it had not been for my father being in aviation, I would not have been able to learn to fly,” he said. “I had a free flight instructor. I think it’s awesome that the 15 of you and those who will follow you will have the opportunity to become a pilot.”
It’s an elite group, Howell said. About two people out of 1,000 hold a private pilot license, and much fewer at the high school level.
Students were about to embark on an amazing and unique experience few can claim, he said.
“The view from a Cessna 172 flying over the Cumberland Plateau is a lot different than the view looking out the window of a 747 in an airliner,” Howell said.
That license can be the first step to a career in the military, airline industry or general aviation.
“What you learn over the next year as you learn to fly will stay with you for the rest of your life,” Howell said.
Howell stressed safety, a core value of his company.
“Flying is very fun, but it’s very serious,” he said.
He encouraged students to put in the study time before the flying time, adding it is recommended flight students devote about five hours of book and classroom study for every hour of flight time.
“The more you study and the more you prepare in class and the more homework you do, the more enjoyable experience it’s going to be when you show up to the airport and get into the airplane,” Howell said.
Flying requires applying a lot of knowledge to adjust for variables and fly safely.
It can be challenging and there will be days the students will be frustrated, but Howell encouraged the students to hang in there and keep making forward progress.
“One day you’re going to be out there flying and it’s going to click,” he said. “It’s the a-ha moment.”