Aeronautics program getting off the ground

SAN BERNARDINO - The school district is planning to pilot a brand-new aeronautics program later this year to steer high school students toward careers in aviation.

Learning to be an airline pilot, flight attendant or aircraft mechanic will all be at teen fingertips under 's newest Regional Occupational Program.

"Aviation Occupations," to be offered initially at Arroyo Valley High School, could take off as early as January, said Pam Kempthorne, coordinator of career development for the district.

"We're excited about it," Kempthorne said. "It opens a new career pathway to kids."

But as much as the district is trying new ways to draw students' interest, the program is propelled at least as much by the need to fill jobs at area airports.

ROP programs have to show that the jobs are available, Kempthorne said, and the need is definitely there.

"Our goal is to urge students in ROP to continue their schooling, so they can get entry-level employment," Kempthorne said. "The likelihood of getting hired is great."

That's part of the attraction, she said.

"It's so enticing for high school students - to actually be able to do what they're taught," she said.

Students who take the after-school course at Arroyo, which will offer a broad overview of the aeronautics field, will be encouraged to enroll concurrently at San Bernardino Valley College, where they can zero in on what interests them - and earn both high school and college credit at the same time.

At the college, the aircraft to be worked on include the Cessna 120, Piper 140, Beech B-50 and Bell 47 helicopter. A bright yellow Pratt & Whitney PT6, which holds the latest and most popular gas turbine engine, is ready for students to pry apart.

Flight simulators are also at the ready.

"I tell my students aeronautics is not a career or an occupation," said associate professor Allen Moore, who heads the Aeronautics Department at the college. "It's an obsession - it's a disease."

Clearly a man who loves aircraft, Moore got his associate degree in aeronautical engineering and technology from San Bernardino Valley College after serving as an airplane mechanic in the Air Force and being involved in aviation for 35 years. He is eager to parlay that allure to high school students.

"Anything we can do to promote aviation," he said.

At the college, students can earn FAA-approved certificates and associate degrees in flight operations and management, air frame and power-plant mechanics and airline travel.

The college provides ground school training for commercial pilots in either general aviation or the airlines. Actual flight training needed for a commercial license can be arranged at local airports.

But the ROP class isn't just for fun. It can easily lead to employment at local airports if students decide to pursue their education.

The college is heavily involved in maintenance projects at San Bernardino International Airport, which also offers internships. Flabob Airport in Rubidoux and Victorville Aerospace also offer internships.

But those aren't the only operations looking for skilled aircraft mechanics.

A national shortage exists in every area of aviation, Moore said. "There is a huge demand for our aviation grads."

And there is a growing need for ever more education to fill the spots available, said Kevin Kammer, aeronautics instructor at the college.

"The industry is at a crossroads," he said.

Increasing technology requires a lot of bookwork - from basic math to basic physics to electricity and electronics to hardware and hydraulic plumbing.

"Now, you can walk out to the airplane with a laptop and start troubleshooting," Kammer said.

"Sometimes, the planes even troubleshoot themselves - but then, you have to know enough to make sure it's right."

And now, high school students can get a head start with aeronautics ROP.

San Bernardino City Unified plans to take the program districtwide in 2008-09, Kempthorne said.

San Bernardino City Unified Contact writer Carolyn Schatz at (909) 386-3845 or via e-mail to .