Instructor and student safely landing after a brief, 15 minute flight at the Vanderhoof Airport. (Photo/Colin Macgillivray)

Project Aviation fosters opportunities for local youth

A head start on a career in aviation

14 lucky students from Nechako Valley Secondary School were given the opportunity for an introductory, 15 minute flight this past week at the Vanderhoof Airport, due to the School District 91 Nechako Lakes’ Project Aviation.

“Project Aviation ties in with out aviation program which we started at Nechako Valley Secondary School this year,” says Darren Carpenter, District of Vanderhoof Councillor. “The students sign up for a semester long course called NVSS Aviation and they basically get their ground school.”

Carpenter, who also works for School District 91 as the District Career & Trades Programs Coordinator, says that Project Aviation consolidates with other projects that the school district promotes to give students hands-on work experiences needed to explore future job opportunities.

“It’s the first time we’re doing this aviation project,” says Carpenter. “We put on a bunch of these themed projects, so we have a heavy duty one that relates to heavy equipment, one for forestry, one with health and a slew of other ones with the surrounding communities.”

The pilot class of students started their first semester of the aviation course started back in January of this year, giving them a unique opportunity to potentially begin a career in aviation.

Throughout the course, Class 2 flight instructor and NVSS teacher Andy Sundahl, who has been a teacher in the Nechako School District since 1993 and earned his initial instructor rating with the Edmonton Flying Club back in 1988, gives these students the opportunity to get a head start at completing their private pilot ground school.

Carpenter says that a course like this wouldn’t be possible if it weren’t for the hard work and dedication of the instructors and the passionate volunteers who donate their time for these students.

Additionally, the two Red Bird FMX 1000 full motion flight simulators that are currently housed at NVSS give these students an opportunity that isn’t found in any other high school in Canada.

“The school district was able to secure two incredibly high-end flight simulators,” says Carpenter. “They were initially at the College of New Caledonia, as they were trying to run a flight school which unfortunately fell away, so these flight simulators were left behind. We as a school district thought that if we could get them into the high school, we could set up a course around them.”

On June 13, the students who were on route to complete the course were given the aforementioned, 15 minute introductory flight, something that Carpenter believes acts as both a reward for the students who have worked hard throughout the semester, but also a unique experience that not many high school students will ever have.

“We thought that once these students complete the course, there should be some sort of culminating event at the end of the year,” says Carpenter. “We took the idea from our Project Firefighter course, where students would be put into a burn building for that real hands-on experience.”

Carpenter says that although all the students were keen on finally getting up in the air, the project gives the students some insight as to what else a career in aviation may offer.

“It’s all part of our project model, where you get the students out of the classroom and bring them to an active worksite, like the Vanderhoof Airport,” says Carpenter. “The students are then allowed to speak to people like Royce Schaff about things like aircraft maintenance repair, showing them that there are so many other opportunities when it comes to aircraft, that it’s not just flying, especially in a small town like Vanderhoof.”

Ultimately, Carpenter says that giving these students a taste as to what a career in aviation is all about has been a community effort. Whether it is instructors like Sundahl, volunteers like Schaff and Floyd Wuthrich, President of the Vanderhoof Flying Club, or even the District of Vanderhoof itself.

“The District of Vanderhoof budgeted around $5000 for the Vanderhoof Flying Club to provide that extra add-on flying experience for the kids who are in the program,” says Carpenter. “It’s a real win-win. We’re able to get these students going and if they decide that this is the route they want to take, it gives them a bit of a head start.”

Upon completion of the aviation course, 13 of the students will be given one hour of flight time over the summer, while one student will be allowed 10 hours of flight time as part of the major program award. A cheque presentation, along with these awards, were presented at NVSS on June 18.

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