Being able to fly is a common childhood aspiration, but few get to realize that dream as adults.
Students at Crystal Lake High School District 155's four schools, however, will have a unique opportunity to pursue a career in aviation. This fall the district will offer an elective course for students to earn Federal Aviation Administration private pilot ground school certification.
District 155 is partnering with Lake in the Hills Airport and a local flight school to provide the aviation course, which will be taught by a commercial pilot and FAA-certified ground instructor. It's the first such program offered at a suburban high school. Officials hope it will be a blueprint for other high schools.
"What we're trying to do is create as many workforce-focused opportunities for kids as possible," District 155 Superintendent Johnnie Thomas said. "We understand there is going to be a tremendous need for pilots in the future."
Boeing estimates by 2035 the global aviation industry will need more than 2 million new commercial airline pilots, technicians and cabin crew.
Rob Nelson, a Crystal Lake pilot, who initially approached District 155 about starting a high school aviation club and helped develop the new course, said that number included "jobs that kids really don't know about. For instance, becoming a dispatcher ... that's a career that starts at $45,000. Dispatchers are the captain of a flight before it takes off."
Nelson, a pilot with more than 30 years experience, owns Drone Training Pros, which trains people getting their commercial drone license. He also is involved with youths in aviation as vice president of the Experimental Aircraft Association's Lake in the Hills chapter. Local pilots volunteer with the chapter's Young Eagles program to give kids their first aviation experience riding on a plane for free.
But parents were asking for a more structured program, Nelson said.
District 155's course will allow students to pursue careers including pilot, flight operations support, dispatcher, working for the FAA and National Transportation Safety Board.
Students will learn the fundamentals of aviation, such as FAA flying regulations, airport operations, airspace, aeromedical factors, aeronautical decision making, weather reports, radio communication and risk management. The class will provide them with the necessary information to pass the Private Pilot Written Knowledge Test.
There is no flying involved, but students will hear from representatives of Blue Skies flight school in Lake in the Hills about how they can get practical flight training. A person can fly a plane solo at 16 and get a private pilot's license at 17.
"Not too many high schools around the country would offer a program like this," said Mike Carzoli, owner of Blue Skies Pilot Shop Inc.
Lake in the Hills Airport Manager Michael Peranich said officials there have tried for years to get a college-level aviation course at the airport without any takers.
"If we can get these kids interested in aviation at a younger age, they are more likely to pursue that on a longer term," he said. "Our hope is because these are local kids, they will learn to fly at one of the flight schools here. The more effort we put into making this a viable future for young folks ... it's basically self-preservation for the aviation industry as a whole."
There also will be a lesson about drones to prepare students for getting an unmanned aircraft commercial operator license. Demand for drone pilots, who can get licensed at 16, is increasing, Nelson said, especially for agriculture, law enforcement, firefighting, emergency search and rescue services and municipal uses. Average hourly wages are $39 to $50.
Students will pay $350 to take the course, which covers the instructor's fee, materials, pilot log books and the ground school basic knowledge test. Once-a-week classes will be offered starting Aug. 21 at Crystal Lake South High School. The two-hour night class runs for 18 weeks. It's the district's first night class, and students already are clamoring to get in, said Corey Tafoya, District 155 assistant superintendent of educational services.
"We were going to cap the number of students at 30. We are going to exceed that cap," he said. "It really sets our student apart ... giving them a leg up when they go to college being a year ahead in the aviation track. What we are hoping is this course is kind of a springboard for them to pursue other options with area flight schools. It is a competitive arena, and they will recruit our students."