Learning on the Fly: Students learn about aviation careers at STEM event

Area high school students with an interest in an aviation-related career got a chance to talk to pilots and explore a variety of helicopters and planes during the Owensboro Air Show STEM event Thursday inside and outside the MidAmerica Jet hangar at Owensboro-Daviess County Regional Airport.

The event, which began last year, is aimed at exposing students to the array of jobs available in the aviation industry, including support personnel and medical fields.

“We know that there’s obviously lots of students that love the idea of getting into aviation as a career,” said Tim Ross, the city’s public events director. “So from a STEM concept, we said, ‘Why don’t we bring together a dozen different aviation careers or hobbies, just to expose them to a chance to get some question-and-answer and get up close.’

“We want to show what it looks like for these different careers in aviation, and the students get to climb in the planes as opposed to just seeing them up in the sky.”

Before getting up-close with the planes, the students got to hear from pilots of several different equipment, including personal, corporate and military aircraft, including a Kentucky National Guard C-130 Hercules, two A-10 attack planes and a Blackhawk medical helicopter. They told the students there isn’t a set path to entering the field, but encouraged them to pursue their dreams.

Captain Ryan Usher, who flies the C-130, said he was impressed with the students’ interest and questions.

“There were two girls I was talking to that were asking questions about weights, takeoff distances, altitudes, and she was writing things down,” he said. “I was pretty impressed by that. You could see her really connecting the dots — the airplane looks like this, so it’s probably why it performs this way. And then I’ve had fun questions.”

Emmitt Brock, a junior at Apollo, has his sights on having an aviation career, which he’s already preparing for. He began studying for his pilot’s license about a year-and-a-half ago and began flying about two months ago.

“Being up in the air is another level of peaceful,” Brock said. “It’s soothing.”

Brock said he’s planning to be a commercial airline pilot or an aerial firefighter.

“I think it would be so cool to be an airplane firefighter,” he said.

Apollo junior Madeline West was enjoying touring the aircraft. She’s from a military family, with her father in plane maintenance. While physics is her passion, she sees the potential of an aviation career.

“This is really neat, and I find it very interesting,” West said. “If physics doesn’t work out, then I’m wanting to do something like this — something mechanical and hands on, something that will make a big difference.”

First Lt. Teodora Luna, a Blackhawk pilot for the U.S. Army based in Fort Knox, said being a pilot is still a male-dominated field, so she hopes to be a role model to show girls they can do anything they focus on.

“There is always an opportunity to inspire the next generation,” she said. “I definitely feel I’m a role model. It’s always good to have representation and for the little girls to see someone that looks like them.”

Ross said he was pleased with the response from the students.

“All of the students, whether there is a small interest in it as a potential hobby or whether it’s a career and they want to go to the Air Force Academy, they’re all coming at it from a different angle, and so this gives them a chance to kind of talk it through with people from eight, 10, 12 different career fields in aviation,” Ross said. “It gives them a wide array of what’s possible out there. They’re engaged with it.

“The chance to talk to some of these aviation folks one on one, to kind of pick their brain about how they got in the field and what it’s like on a daily basis, it’s an opportunity you don’t get normally.”