Students take to the sky

A select few Junior ROTC students at Thompson High School have been getting a lesson that cannot be taught in a classroom.

Unless, that is, the classroom is at 10,000 feet.

Through a grant, the Thompson Air Force JROTC unit has partnered with the Civil Air Patrol to provide 18 students with the chance to ride along in a Cessna 172 airplane.

Col. Eldon Woodie, senior aerospace instructor and head of the JROTC, said the partnership between the Thompson JROTC unit and the Civil Air Patrol has a been a perfect marriage and it allows the students an opportunity to see a practical use of subjects like math, while also giving some of them a chance of a lifetime.

“Some of these kids have never even been on a commercial plane,” Woodie said. “It’s kind of a reward for the kids who are active in the community.”

Bailey Gothard is one of those students who had never been on a plane.

Along with classmate Charles Murrell and pilot Lt. Col. Johnny Ward, Gothard got her chance to fly Jan. 27. It’s an experience she’ll never forget.

“I loved it,” she said “It was a great experience all around.”

Besides flying, the students were also briefed on flying procedures before taking part in inspecting the plane before takeoff.

After making sure everything was ready to go, the crew took off from the Shelby County Airport, circled Birmingham and flew to Bessemer before returning.

The one-hour trip provided a lot of insight for the students, especially when listening to air traffic control while in Birmingham airspace.

“It was ordered chaos, with an understanding of how hectic their job is,” Murrell said of the air traffic controllers. “It’s a demanding job.”

Gothard was also taken aback by how quickly things move with air traffic control.

“It was busy,” she said. “I got confused, actually.”

There will be one or two more flights this week to close out the program. However, Woodie said he plans to petition for more funds so that this program will become an annual event for the Air Force JROTC.

Because when kids are having fun and learning, it’s all worth it.

“It’s fun to see kids when they’re fired up about something,” Woodie said.