Aviation education

Published 4:28 pm Monday, September 14, 2009

Standing on the wing of John Ward’s Ercoupe, pilot Ladd Mayer explained the history of the antique plane to Birmingham Southern student Blake Yance.

Yance took a tour of the Shelby County Airport along with more than a dozen other BSC students Aug. 31. Their advisors, Matthew Mielke and David Smith, wanted to expose the students to a new discipline. While Mielke teaches theater and Smith leads courses in music, they both spend their free time as private pilots.

“Aviation is something very near and dear to our hearts,” Mielke said. “We were hoping they would see how aviation affects so many aspects of life and their own family members’ lives.”

Smith said the two intended to offer the students a look at the benefits and liabilities of a general aviation airport. They wanted their students to experience aeronautics and engineering, running a business, the economics of an airport and the other careers that are applied in its daily activity.

“Since we are a liberal arts college, we wanted these new students to encounter interdisciplinary thinking, in this case about airports,” Smith said.

Not only did they discover the economics of an airport, but they also learned about what keeps an airplane in the air, why knowledge of weather is important and what career options are available.

Student Janelle West said she never considered the close connection between weather and flight.

“One job that surprised me was meterology. I never realized how much flying depends on the weather,” West said. “It is crucial to have an accurate weather report in order to plan a flight. The trip was very eye opening.”

Shelby County Aviation Association President Rick Kilgore said 14 volunteers made their personal knowledge and their personal planes available. The day included looks at gliders, low wing and high wing aircraft and tail draggers. He said students also learned they could explore careers in everything from the military to the National Weather Service.

“Most of them had not flown in small planes or been exposed to general aviation,” Kilgore said. “I think they were surprised at the impact of aviation.”

Kilgore said it’s important for people to realize how vital aviation is to communities. He said they provide a hub of transportation for small businesses, keep track of the weather and even offer recreational value. Smith said the students expressed delight with what they heard and saw.

“Having an opportunity to see small airplanes up close, to get inside and play with the controls was a big hit,” he said.

West said she was also excited to learn people could gain a pilot’s license for their own personal pleasure.

“I really enjoyed seeing all the different types of planes,” West said. “It’s incredible how simple laws of physics can keep planes up in the air.”