By: Eve Nevelos, Editorial Staff ‘24

The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, a non-profit organization that works to improve the future of aviation, endorses a specialized high school flight program, one that is available to students in the RIH district. The courses include: Launching into Aviation and Exploring Aviation and Aerospace freshman year, Introduction to Flight and Aircraft Systems and Performance sophomore year, The Flying Environment and Flight Planning or UAS Operations for junior year, and ‘Pilot Pathway’ and ‘UAS Pathway’ classes senior year. Most of the classes are split into semesters – the first class during the first two quarters of the school year and the second class during the last two quarters. 

The ‘Pilot Pathway’ explores “flight instruments, aircraft operation, and other facets required in flying a plane safely,” Mr. Walkowich explains, “Students in the ‘UAS Pathway’ (which stands for ‘Unmanned Aerial System Pathway’) take courses designed to expose the students to the legal, technical, and operational aspects of flying drones, especially in commercial situations in which large crowds of people may be present and whose safety must be considered.” These different programs offered encourage students to investigate their interests to prepare them best for future career opportunities or hobbies. 

Mrs. Manzi, the IHHS Supervisor of Science, says that the end goal of the AOPA program is to “build an interest in the field of aviation and expose students to a possible STEM career in the future as a pilot or in a drone-related field.” 

“The aviation program is recommended for any student interested in pursuing their private pilot license or remote pilot certificate,” says Mr. Walkowich, Physics of Flight teacher, “Students who pass the ‘Private Pilot’s Knowledge Exam,’ obtain a minimum of 40 hours of flight with a certified instructor, and pass the ‘Private Pilot’s Practical Exam’ (and are 17 years old or older), are able to apply for their private pilot’s license. […] Those interested in obtaining their ‘Remote Pilot’s License’ face fewer requirements, essentially needing to pass only the ‘Unmanned Aircraft General Exam’ and repass the exam every two years to ensure they are up to date on the legal requirements of drone operation.”

“Students in the AOPA program will explore the history of flight and aviation, learn more about future aviation careers, use the flight simulators, and learn about safety and operations as they learn how to man a drone,” Mrs. Manzi explains, “The program also prepares students for the written exam for a pilot or UAS/drone licensing exam.  The opportunity to use the drones, flight simulators, and prepare for professional exams is unique, and RIH is one of just a few schools across the state that have adopted the AOPA aviation program.” Students working towards their UAS certificate gain an understanding of the aerodynamics of drone systems, legal and ethical considerations that go along with drones, the maintenance and care of unmanned aerial systems, as well as exposure to remote flight with drones and flight simulators.

Erin McDermott, junior, comments on the program, “I am overjoyed that I decided to join the aviation program, even though I only joined this year for ‘Physics of Flight.’ I joined because I aimed to gain a better, focused experience in Physics. Mr. Walkowich conducts a focused and elaborate class while creating personal relationships with all his students. For any incoming freshmen, I would recommend joining the aviation program for all four years offered; you can even work up to getting your private pilot’s license!”
For students interested in the AOPA high school program, know that the program is open to everybody. That being said, the earlier students start, the further they can go in the program. At the moment, there are just ten students enrolled in the aviation program, all of which are completing the Physics of Flight course. It is not too late to join the program if interested.