The Kentucky Institute for Aerospace Education (KIAE) is a one-of-a-kind endeavor, currently networking 20 high schools in the state to provide students direct experiences in aeronautical engineering, flight, aircraft maintenance, and space systems. When I asked Tim Smith, Director of Frankfort High School’s Aviation program and CIO for KIAE, why this was important, he said, "Programs like these will lead to more students enrolling in post-secondary opportunities in flight/aeronautics, aircraft maintenance, aeronautical engineering, space systems engineering, aerospace computer engineering, air traffic control, and aviation management/operations. Another important element of expansion is that potential grant opportunities and other sponsorships examine viability and scale of the initiative. So, it is important to show its implementation in a variety of environments. In short, the more students that are studying aerospace, the more that will enter the workforce."
Three of their students got to experience a different end of the spectrum when they rode along with a gathering of Yakolevs at Bowman Field in Louisville, KY (just outside GlobalAir.com’s office). See more on the gathering itself here. I spent a few minutes with Michael Dahl, Jason Smith and Seth Padgett just before they climbed into their respective cockpits for a bit of formation flying.
Michael Dahl climbing into a Yak to experience formation flying.
GlobalAir: What inspired each your interests in aviation?
Michael Dahl: My uncle took me flying in an open-air cockpit bi-plane right here at Bowman Field when I was 11 years old, and that summer I flew on a commercial airliner on our vacation to California - all that exposure to flying in a short amount of time got my attention. When I found there was an aviation-related program at Frankfort High School, I made sure to get involved!
Jason Smith: My mother often took me to the airport as a baby to let the sounds of aircraft calm me, so I’ve been interested a long time! I knew after seeing "Top Gun" that I wanted to be a fighter pilot – I even dressed like Maverick for Halloween once.
GA: You’re too tall to play Tom Cruise!
JS: (laughs) Well, this was a while ago. Then I got involved with the aviation program at school. I was also motivated by learning about the various mission aviation programs that exist when I was at Oshkosh, so I’ve also become interested in contributing there.
Seth Padgett: I was born in Germany, so I’ve been on aircraft since I was a child flying back and forth to visit family. I became more seriously involved through an aviation camp where we did flight planning, and from there Tim Smith turned me on to the KIAE program in Frankfort.
Jason Smith receiving a safety briefing on riding along in the Yak.
GA: What have been the biggest obstacles for each of you in pursuing your pilot’s licenses?
MD: I was always concerned about "what if there’s a problem during flight"? I had to tell myself to get past it and stop being afraid to try.
JS: For me, it’s the number of hoops you have to jump thru, plus the financial burden. But, even though it’s a cliché, you truly can do anything you set your mind to do.
SP: It’s so much easier to get a driver’s license – take a test, drive an instructor around, and you’re done. Earning your pilot’s license is such a time investment; it’s easy to get discouraged. You have to remind yourself that you will get there, just be patient and stay focused!
GA: We, in the aviation industry, already know that bringing youth to aviation is vital to growing the industry. So what would you want to share with kids your age that may be interested, but intimidated, by flying?
SP: Statistically speaking, flying is very safe. When you see how many check-ups and tests you have to do to become a pilot and take care of your aircraft, you’ll see there’s nothing to be intimidated by.
MD: If you’ve never flown before, or are scared of flying, find an airport and see if anyone is willing to take you up and experience it for yourself. Learn more about airplanes & how they work - that’s how I got hooked!
JS: I agree – get up and fly! Talking about it isn’t enough!
Seth Padgett scoping the taxi path as they maneuver for takeoff.
GA: Lastly, what do you plan to do with your licenses – personal enjoyment, or career aspirations?
MD: Right now, mostly personal enjoyment. It’s still a little early for me to look beyond to career options.
JS: I mentioned earlier about being a fighter pilot and doing missionary work – which requires mechanical knowledge as well, so I’m putting focus there too.
SP: I’d like to fly for the Air Force initially. Afterward, I’ll likely transition to flying for services like UPS, FedEx, Delta – many options! But also personal enjoyment for sure!
Shortly after our conversations, all six pilots met and discussed formations, with the three boys listening intently. The students then met with the pilots of their Yaks and got personal instructions for their safety and knowledge about occupying the second seat. I marveled at the focus they all had on the task at hand as I snapped a few pictures – my presence wasn’t even registering anymore. They were now sponges, soaking in everything about the aircraft they were climbing aboard!
A few gallons of avgas were added, the Yaks (and their accompanying Cessna 172R and Christen Eagle II) taxied out and took to the air. I managed to catch a couple of passes over Bowman Field before I had to leave for another appointment, so I didn’t get to stick around to get their impressions afterward. But I think it was safe to assume that it was nothing but joy and excitement all around!
Watch the Yaks, 172 and Christen Eagle taxi out for takeoff!