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Class takes students to new heights

ABOVE: Students in Fairmont High School’s Principles of Flight class check out a business jet at the Fairmont Municipal Airport.

FAIRMONT– Since it started four years ago, Fairmont High School’s Principles of Flight class has really taken off. The class, taught by Jerry Brooks, teaches students about different career pathways in aviation and also allows them the opportunity to actually fly an airplane.

Brooks said there were 12 students in the class both the first and second year, nine the third year and now in the fourth year, it’s full at 20 students.

“Of those 20, we have two from Truman. We have offered it to area schools for students who are interested in flying,” Brooks said.

The two-semester class is currently open for students grades 9 though 12, but moving forward it will be offered to those in grades 10 through 12.

In class, students do a variety of things. They develop flight plans and then use one of the four flight simulators to try and execute the fight plans.

“We’ve done different projects like the hot air balloons, paper airplanes and gliders,” said student Gavin Rodning.

Brooks said they also built air foils and tested them in a wind tunnel to see how much lift they would generate.

“We were playing the Wright brothers a little bit,” he said.

The students also learn about different kinds of “birds.” Richard Johnson, an aviation enthusiast, donated 23 model airplanes to the class a few years ago. They adorn the ceiling of Brooks’ classroom.

Brett Staab said they also had guest speakers come to the class who are in the field in some capacity.

Representative of Iowa Lakes Community College have come in and given a presentation on their flight program and how the students can take what they’re learning to the next level.

Tyson Geerdes, a former student who is now in the Air Force has come to talk to the class a few times and Maddy Militello, who is in the National Guards, has come to talk about how that can be a career pathway.

The class also flies drones. Of the 12 drones the school has, students pair up with one flyer and one visual observer to help watch it.

In the beginning of the school year when the weather was nice, Brooks said they spent a good month outside flying drones.

Drones aren’t the only thing the students fly. Brooks said by being in the class, students have the opportunity to fly with him outside of the class.

“Not only do they go up, but they also fly the airplane. We have one student who has taken off and landed without any input from me,” he said.

The uniqueness of the class is something that can’t be ignored. Brooks said he knows of just five other high schools in the state that do anything with flight.

“We’re really looking at this as a career pathway, not just becoming a pilot. It could be air traffic control, a mechanic, working for an airline as a ground support personnel,” Brooks said.

And there are several students in the class who are interested in pursuing some kind of career in the field in the future.

One of them, Colton Urban, a senior at Truman High School, said he’s been interested in becoming a pilot for about five years.

“In 2018 Mr. Brooks actually had a three-day course where he talked about aviation and on the third day he brought us flying. Ever since then it’s been what I’ve wanted to do,” Urban said.

In August, Urban is going to start at Iowa Lakes to get all of his certifications. He plans to be a certified flight instructor until he gets enough hours to go into air transport.

Preston Vaughn, another senior in the class from Fairmont High School, said he plans to go into aerospace engineering. He said he knew he wanted to be some kind of engineer as he likes creating and designing. He was considering architectural engineering.

“But when Elon Musk and Space X started getting really big, I started looking into that. I didn’t know too much about it but at the end of last year when we were signing up for classes I saw this listed as an elective. It didn’t really spark my interest, but it enhanced it,” Vaughn said.

Ethan Madsen is a younger student in the class who doesn’t yet know what he wants to do, but he knows he’s interested in doing something with aviation. He’s taken every opportunity he’s had to fly with Brooks.

The class also helped sophomore Aaron Graplar know what he wants to do in the future. However, he’s not as interested in flying a plane, but maintaining one.

“There’s got to be airplanes that need work done. I like being a mechanic and working on things. Aviation mechanics get paid well,” Graplar said.

Colby Brudelie, a student from Truman High School, is also going to be attending Iowa Lakes. He first got interested in flying as his grandpa has his own plane.

“I’ll see where it takes me. I’m not sure yet if I want to fly the big planes or the small ones,” Brudelie said.

Speaking on the importance of the class, Brooks said, “aviation is so widespread in our economy.”

He said since Fairmont isn’t really an aviation hotbed, it’s hard to be aware of how aviation is so dominate in both the national and global economy. He mentioned the boom of Amazon and overnight deliveries.

“AOPA (Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association) created this curriculum because they saw there would be a need for pilots and that there would be a shortage of pilots. They had the foresight to create this whole set of curriculum,” Brooks said.

While just the one aviation class is offered at Fairmont High School now, Brooks said there may be potential for offering another class in the future.

“Having gotten into aviation late in life and to develop the passion that I have for, you just want to share it. What better way to share it than to teach it to high school students,” Brooks said.

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