Exchange Aviation Class

In this Oct. 23 photo, Dixie High School student Noah Hall operates a flight simulator in St. George.

ST. GEORGE (AP) — It’s a Wednesday afternoon in St. George, and some area high school students are gathering to practice their piloting skills.

They pull back on their planes’ controls to get airborne, retracting their landing gear a moment later. They bring their crafts to the right heights, making adjustments as they check various flight instruments. Then they carefully guide their planes through a series of turns before coming in for their landings.

But these students aren’t flying actual planes. In fact, they’re all seated safely on the ground.

Rather, they’re learning the basics of piloting on a flight simulator during their after-school Introduction to Aviation through Simulation class.

The class is designed so that students can pass their ground tests, then work with a certified flight instructor to get their pilot’s licenses, said Robert Munson, a retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel who is now the advanced ground instructor for the course.

Munson started the class along with Russell Genet, an aviation researcher and former Air Force captain, and Dan Eliason, a retired Air Force colonel who now works with the Gail S. Halvorsen Aviation Education Foundation. Munson also acts as the foundation’s Southern Utah representative.

The class is currently held in Dixie High School’s JROTC building, but Munson said he recently signed a contract to start the class with Dixie State University’s Continuing Education program on Jan. 15, 2020, with a new location to be determined. The current class, which is the first time the program has been run, will continue until Christmas.

And though all but one of the six currently enrolled students are members of local JROTCs, Munson said DSU’s Continuing Education program will make the class accessible to anyone in the community.

He’s also hoping they’ll be able to spread the program to other high schools in the area and get the support of an airline like SkyWest or Delta.

“It’s an awesome opportunity for young kids to get the feel of a cockpit without having to pay $100 an hour to sit in the cockpit,” said Kenneth “KO” Fields, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel and currently the senior aerospace science instructor with the Dixie JROTC.

Munson said the class meets once a week after school for two hours. The first hour is spent on an assignment within the simulation, such as learning how to turn, while the second hour is spent on traditional classroom instruction, such as learning about motors and engines.

“It’s kind of a science and an art,” Munson said.

He also said to use the simulator, students need a gaming laptop, which typically costs around $600.

However, the Halverson Foundation provided joysticks and rudder pedals for their classroom, while Walmart donated screens. The software, called TakeFlight Interactive, was provided by TakeFlight CEO Brandon Seltz, who has also made the software available for students to load onto their own computers for free. (Though starting in January, students will need to pay $60 for the software as well as $24.99 for the Microsoft Flight Simulator X.)

The software takes students through different lessons such as straight and level flight, climbs and descents, turns, takeoffs and landings. At the end, they get a grade and see how well they did on different aspects of flight, such as altitude and banking.

“Computers have been advancing,” Munson said. “You can use a laptop and a screen and all this stuff, and it pretty well simulates how to fly.”

There currently aren’t any GPA or other requirements for high school students to take the class, and it’s open to anyone who’s interested in flying, he said.

Munson said he feels the community needs an aviation class because there’s going to be “a huge shortage of pilots” in coming years. He hopes the class will expose more community members to the possibility of flying.

He also said the best part of working with students is seeing them get excited about aviation, while the most challenging part is making sure they know the many parts of flying, from Federal Aviation Administration rules to weather to the plane’s instruments.

“Flying is not hard, but there’s just a lot of different things to know,” he said. “It just takes time and dedication.”

One of the students putting in that time is 16-year-old Alex Eggers, a junior at Desert Hills High School and a Dixie JROTC member. He thought he wanted to be a meteorologist until he realized “being a pilot is way cooler. You’re actually in the sky.”

Eggers, who plans on joining the Air Force, said both the best part and the most challenging part of the class is the simulators.

“They’re hard to control,” he said. “(But) you soon enough get what they’re trying to show you.”

And to any student contemplating the class, he’d say, “Go for it.”

“It’s a good… (way of) getting into the plane and the cockpit and everything without actually getting in a jet plane and having any risk,” he said.

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