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Aviation program gets off ground with first student flights

When Phil Campbell High School began its aviation program in August, instructors and administrators were still ironing out what the program would include and what students would be able to accomplish. A few months later, the program is ready for its first students to take flight.

The aviation program boasts 27 students, with five of those pursuing the program to the flight level of training in a real plane.

“Whenever you start a new program, it never goes the way you thought it would be,” said instructor Jason Evans. “Our plans were by 2020 to have students who wanted to make a career out of it in the air. That vision is now coming to real life, so it’s an exciting time for all of us.”

Rilan Garrison was the first student to begin flight training in the trainer plane Dec. 11, with classmate Luke Barnwell flying for the first time the next day.

“I had flown before, so I sort of knew what to expect, but it was different being up in the plane compared to the simulator,” Barnwell said.

Students will learn in the trainer plane with Evans at his flight school at the Russellville Municipal Airport after school and on weekends.

Evans said time in the plane is funded by generous donors. Student who have a 3.0 grade point average and meet the age requirements to receive a pilot’s license by the end of the school year are eligible for the funding. Each hour the student spends volunteering can be redeemed for one hour of flight time in the trainer plane.

The FAA requires a minimum of 40 hours in the aircraft to receive a pilot’s license.

While in the air, students are learning how to be proficient in FAA maneuvers, cross-country flight planning and airport procedures. Once a student meets all of these requirements and Evans signs off, the student will take an exam with the FAA for a pilot’s license.

Evans said all of the students pursuing flight training are interested in aviation as a career or using it in business, with two students planning to attend Auburn University to major in aviation.

Evans said he is excited to see students realizing their dreams and working to put Phil Campbell on the map.

“It’s very exciting for them to see what they have worked for all semester long come to reality in a real-life aircraft,” Evans said.

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