KENT: Flight instructor Andrew Pearsall leveled the ascent at 1,540 feet above Hudson High School, where Diego Valenzuela, a junior this fall, has been contemplating careers.
“Alright Diego, what I want you to do is grab the yoke. Keep it at about 75 knots and bring us up to 2,500 feet,” Pearsall nonchalantly told the student.
“Right,” Valenzuela responded, confidence shaking with the turbulence. “How do I do that?”
Flying a plane for the first time above Portage County, Valenzuela and 21 other local high school students got a taste of the aviation profession Monday during the 13th annual Aviation Career Education camp, which runs through Friday at Kent State University Airport.
“LifeFlight is my dream job,” said Sean Clunn, 16, a junior at Twinsburg High School.
Clunn frequently attends air shows with his father and dreams of piloting a medical evacuation helicopter like the one that flies over his home. His grandfather saw an ad in the newspaper for ACE and signed him up for the weeklong program, which costs between $225 and $275 per student and is largely funded by private grants.
The Federal Aviation Administration-affiliated program introduces students to aviation careers, from mechanics to pilots to air traffic controllers. The camp is a precursor to two- and four-year pilot programs offered at Ohio State University, Ohio University, Bowling Green State University, the University of Cincinnati and Kent State.
ACE is a partnership between Kent State’s Aeronautics Program and the Six District Educational Compact, a consortium of Portage and Summit County high schools — Cuyahoga Falls, Hudson, Kent, Stow-Munroe Falls (which houses the compact’s Aviation Career Academy), Tallmadge and Woodridge — that share vocational students and programming.
Sue Lyons, a retired math and science teacher from Tallmadge, has led the local ACE camp since she helped create it 13 years ago.
“We started this because Kent State is in our backyard and we have an airport here,” said Lyons, who has launched other camps that encourage employment in the math, science and engineering fields. “It’s kind of a lifelong teacher thing, always educating students.”
The program began this week with groups of two or three students and a flight instructor piling into 160- to 180-horsepower Cessna airplanes, which took off from Kent State’s airport on Kent Road in Stow. The trip took them north, where they touched down at the Portage County Airport in Shalersville to switch seats so each student could take a turn piloting the plane.
When Valenzuela reached 2,500 feet, as he had been directed to do, his instructor calmly raised his hands in the air, letting go of the yoke.
“I’m not really doing anything,” Pearsall said.
“Don’t say that,” Valenzuela quickly responded with equal parts enthusiasm and concern. “That’s frightening.”
After retaking control, Pearsall landed the plane without incident about 25 minutes later.
Valenzuela then sat in a flight simulator in a trailer at the small airport, where he successfully landed a virtual plane. Students finished the day with a visit to the Kent State campus, where they sat in a large, computer-filled room with wall-mounted viewing screens that simulated the view outside a busy air-traffic control tower.
On Tuesday, ACE staff shuttled the students to Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, where authorities opened a secured air-traffic control tower for an exclusive tour. Students also visited Parker-Hannifin Corp., a private company grossing $12 billion globally with 52,000 employees in the aerospace market.
Throughout the week, the students will tour NASA Glenn Research Center, the Ohio National Guard at Akron-Canton Airport, the MAPS Air Museum tower and other Northeast Ohio aviation installments.
“The basics of the camp is to expose students to all the careers associated with aeronautics,” said Lyons, who relishes the moment when she sees a wide-eyed student realize there is more to flying planes than sitting in a cockpit.
For some though, being airborne will always be the most appealing aspect of aviation.
“It’s like a whole ’nother world,” said Clunn, who described the rush and release of steering one of KSU’s Cessna airplanes. “It’s hard to explain. It’s like another freedom that you don’t normally have. I think it would be cool to do that for life.”
For more information, contact Sue Lyons at 330-633-1220.
Doug Livingston can be reached at 330-996-3792 or firstname.lastname@example.org.