Aviation class helps Nome students spread their wings
On any given day in Nome, it is not unusual to see a plane buzzing by in the sky, a jet landing on the runway, or a helicopter whirring along the shoreline. In Alaska, and Nome in particular, people are exposed to aviation nearly from birth, as air travel remains the most efficient, safe and accessible method of transportation. But how accessible are aviation careers for youth in our region?
The answer is unfortunately, “not very accessible,” and one teacher at Nome-Beltz Junior/Senior High School is hoping to change that.
Dave Padvorac, junior high science teacher at Nome-Beltz, also teaches a high school elective course in aviation. By bringing aviation education directly to students in the classroom, Padvorac hopes to close the gap for students from just being interested in aviation, to actually pursuing careers in aviation.
“I think it’s important to make aviation accessible for students here,” Padvorac told the Nome Nugget in an interview. “As it is now, there’s plenty of kids who are interested in aviation, whether it’s a pilot mechanic, or a ramper, or a fueler, or just anything. But for the most part, that is a disconnected, foreign world for them.”
“Despite the fact that every single kid that I’ve had in my class has been on a Bering Air or Ravn plane in the past six months, the idea of flying one for a living is just foreign and disconnected, it’s not a real thing,” said Padvorac.
Everyday in Aviation Class, students explore a different aspect of the world of aviation.
This semester, Padvorac has around 12 kids in the classroom, learning everything from the basics of flight to what it takes to own your own aircraft. Padvorac said they just completed a unit on buying an aircraft. Students researched planes or helicopters, then determined the purchase, maintenance and operational costs for that machine.
The week before, students learned about various careers in aviation. They called different air carriers and asked about available jobs and their qualifications. Next week, Padvorac said the class would move into a new unit: an introduction to aeronautical navigation.
While Padvorac has been flying privately for nearly five years —he got his private pilot’s license in 2013 — he is fairly new to flight instruction. He received his Certified Flight Instructor’s certification this past April, and has hopes to bring flight instruction to aviation classes in the future. But, that’s not something that will be happening soon.
“To instruct for the school district with the high schoolers, there’s a lot of liability and logistics with that,” said Padvorac. “We looked at that option last year and decided to rule it out. We haven’t really talked about it yet or discussed it for this upcoming summer or for the future.”
Padvorac continued to point out some of the liabilities surrounding flight instruction for high school students, including the fact that he is a brand new flight instructor as well as the inconsistency of the weather here in Nome.
“I think it would be a little bit advantageous to have instruction offered here for kids,” said Padvorac. “But it’s certainly nowhere near as efficient as going somewhere with really good weather for it. You can’t beat a really good flight school. There’s no doubt about it. The experience the kids get there is phenomenal.”
This summer, three Nome-Beltz students from Padvorac’s aviation class had the opportunity to travel to Santa Paula, California and attend a three-week aviation course at CP Aviation. Bubba McDaniel, Aaron Motis, and Ivory Okleasik spent all spring preparing before traveling to California to enjoy not only superb weather, but also superb instruction.
“The main goal [with the summer flight school] was to get them as close as possible to soloing,” explained Padvorac. “Soloing,” or doing a solo flight, is one of the main stepping-stones towards completing a private pilot’s license. Over the summer, two of the students were able to successfully complete their solo flights.
The flight school CP Aviation was chosen by Padvorac, who has completed flight training there in the past. “In my training, I’ve had some good experiences, but mostly so-so experiences,” explained Padvorac of his choice in flight schools. “I went there [to CP Aviation] and I was absolutely blown away by the quality of instruction I got. So it was kind of the natural choice to take the kids there.”
While the students were not able to fully finish their private pilot’s license over the summer, since a normal certification course can take anywhere from six to eight weeks or more, they learned a lot and got much closer to reaching their goals.
Padvorac said that Ivory Okleasik is at the University of Alaska Anchorage now pursuing an aviation degree, Bubba McDaniel is working in Nome to save up and hopefully finish his license over the winter in Fairbanks, and Aaron Motis is a junior this year, so he’s taking his time.
As for next summer, Padvorac is not sure if he will be taking new students to California for training. He said it depends on two things – the finances and the students. Last year, Padvorac applied for grants to be able to take the students to summer flight school. He said they used some fundraising money, but the main part of what got them to California was grants.
“It’s not looking quite as good for next summer,” said Padvorac. “I keep applying for grants, but I’ve come up dry so far.” Besides finances, Padvorac said it would also depend on the students he has in class next semester. He said it takes a really, really exceptional student to attend flight school. They need to have the motivation and drive to complete the training.
While having students attend flight school out of state is still up in the air for next summer, Padvorac is making sure to take advantage of any local opportunities available for students. He is arranging a fieldtrip to Pathfinder Helicopters, has worked with Bering Air for job shadows, and has put out feelers to other aviation companies in the area for other student opportunities.