LAWTON – Lawton High School is one of at least six schools in southwest Oklahoma that are developing aviation education programs for their students.
Lawton High received a $10,000 grant from the Oklahoma Aeronautics Commission to establish a “Wolverine Wings” program for students in grades 9-12, and has been the recipient of “some direct donations,” too, LHS Principal Charles “Chad” Kirchen said. Altogether, “We have about $100,000, enough to get started,” the U.S. Army veteran said.
The school is using a four-year “You Can Fly” curriculum developed by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, but also other learning materials, Kirchen said.
The AOPA curriculum is “geared for pilots of fixed-wing aircraft,” he said. However, some students interested in aviation are color blind, or don’t want to fly, might not be able to pass the physical requirements for a pilot, or would prefer to fly helicopters rather than airplanes, he said. “So we’re taking bits and pieces and ideas from other sources and developing a broader curriculum.”
This is a new program at LHS in which “we’re introducing kids to 21 career fields,” he said. “There are many areas of opportunity in the aviation industry, such as airframe and powerplant maintenance, avionics, air traffic control, flight attendants, aerial photography and gate agents, not just pilots.”
When fully established “Wolverine Wings” will have a four-year curriculum, he said. Students will receive an introduction to aviation and aerospace during the first two years, while LHS juniors and seniors will start flight training, Kirchen said. “I have four teachers in flight training now,” and he has held a pilot’s license for decades.
LHS has six flight simulators “and we hope to get four more,” along with some drones “to enable our students to get a drone operator’s license if they choose to do so.”
Wolverine Wings students will make a few field trips, Kirchen said, such as to the air traffic control tower at Lawton-Fort Sill Regional Airport, to the FAA center in Oklahoma City, and to the Tom Stafford Air and Space Museum in Weatherford.
“We want to get these kids interested in aviation, and get them some hands-on experience,” he said, “not just focus on history.”
Kirchen said he and Assistant Principal Richard Mullins have contacted an aircraft reclamation company in Oklahoma City that cannibalizes usable parts from discarded aircraft. “We’ll get an airplane ‘carcass’ and install a flight simulator inside it,” Kirchen said.
A company in Kansas City, Missouri, provides airplane kits that several high schools have built themselves, with periodic inspections by examiners from the Federal Aviation Administration. LHS hopes to acquire one of those kits someday for its students to assemble, Kirchen said.
“We’re aiming high,” he said. “Right now, though, we’re limited to models and simulators.”
Some students are still transferring into the aviation program, “but we anticipate about 100 to 110” to enroll, Kirchen said on Aug. 22. Although eventually Wolverine Wings will be a four-year program, “This year we’re allowing any kids who are interested to participate,” he said. “We’re not turning away anyone.”
The aviation program is one of two new “technical application programs” launched at LHS this year, he said. The other program is welding. “Some kids who bomb at algebra, for example, do quite well in a hands-on program,” Kirchen said. “There’s been an incredible amount of interest in our welding program.”
Other Southwest Oklahoma schools that are focusing on aviation/aerospace education this year include:
• Altus High School.
Altus became a science, technology, engineering and mathematics program “so they will be eligible for a $15,000 grant this year,” Tonja Norwood, STEM program manager for the Oklahoma Department of Career and Technology Education, told Southwest Chronicle.
As a result, “We are starting a new program this year,” Supt. Roe Worbes told KSWO-TV. “We’ll have Aviation 1 and then we’ll have engineering design and engineering exploration,” he said.
“We want to do aviation 1, 2, 3 and 4, and by the time they finish the program one of the things they will have accomplished is, they will have a license to fly a drone legally. We’re excited about it.”
Altus High School also received a $6,800 grant from the state Aeronautics Commission to implement its “Building Aviation” program in grades 9-12 using the AOPA “You Can Fly” high school curriculum, and the school will offer aviation field trips and activities. The grant will underwrite 20% of the $33,406 program budget, OAC ledgers reflect.
• Duncan High School.
“This will be our first year, so we are still in the process of figuring out who those students are and who will be interested in the program,” DHS Principal Lisha Elroy told KSWO-TV last month.
“It’s a four-year program so it’ll be incoming freshman who will have the opportunity to enroll, and we’ll just have the one class this year. Then they will work through the four-year program.” A longtime science teacher at the school recently was certified to teach the new course, Elroy said.
• Cameron University received a $2,140 OAC grant. An “Aerospace Engineering and Math Summer Academy” for girls in grades 6-8 will be offered by CU as a five-day overnight academy in which the girls will be introduced to the principles of aerospace engineering and mathematics. The program is designed to attract students to careers in science, math and engineering by introducing the physics of flight. The program budget is $12,092, of which the grant will pay for 17.7%.
• Frederick Public Schools received a $6,495 OAC grant. “Bomber Flight” for grades 9-12 will implement the AOPA curriculum and will introduce students to careers, the history of aviation, forces of flight, and other related topics. The OAC grant will finance 46.4% of the $13,990 program budget, records indicate.
• Great Plains Technology Center received $6,300 from the Aeronautics Commission. A “Pre-Engineering Aerospace Class” for grades 8-12 will expose students to careers in aerospace and aeronautics. Using project-based learning, students will participate in the design and development of hot-air balloons, gliders, airplanes, drones and rockets. Middle school students will use Pitsco curriculum, while high school students will use the AOPA curriculum. The OAC grant will provide 36% of the $17,500 program budget.
Lt. Governor Matt Pinnell announced that Oklahoma is first in the nation for the number of schools approved to teach the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association aviation curriculum starting this fall. Almost five dozen school districts across the state signed onto the program, according to Aeronautics Commission.