CONWAY — STEM Aviation has been cleared for landing as early as the 2020-21 school year at Kennett High’s Mount Washington Valley Career and Technical Center.
MWV Career and Technical Center Director Virginia Schrader will head the statewide effort for the program.
“Virginia is actually in Denver this week getting trained at an AOPA (Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association) workshop,” said Ed Bergeron, secretary of the Eastern Slope Regional Airport Authority in Fryeburg, Maine, who planted the seed for STEM Aviation at KHS four years ago and has worked tirelessly to help bring it to fruition.
School officials also have been working to create a four-year STEM Aviation curriculum that could pave the way for a new career path for students.
It looks like the program is cleared for takeoff.
“We will be including Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association curriculum in our program of studies next year,” Schrader told the Conway School Board at its Oct. 28 meeting.
“It’s a four-year program that will start with the ninth grade. Joe Riddensdale (drafting, engineering and CADD — computer-aided design and drafting — teacher at KHS) has agreed to take on the task of taking on that first class of ninth-graders.”
Schrader said she’s trying “to figure out the logistics” of starting out a new class each year to grow the program.
“Right now, we’ve got it set up where we’re good for year one and year two,” she said. “But possibly, by the time we’re in year three, when next year’s freshmen are juniors and we’re starting another freshmen class, we may have to look at adding a part-time staff member, because (Riddensdale) would not be able to carry that program for four years.”
Schrader believes it will be well-received by the hometown flock.
“It’s pretty exciting,” she said. “The other thing that’s pretty exciting is there are three other schools in New Hampshire — Manchester, Nashua and Fall Mountain — that have some type of aviation program looming.
Including Kennett, "all four of us are getting together, and I’ve been asked by the state director to be head of the committee for the state of New Hampshire.”
Schrader added: “Everybody is doing something a little different. We’re doing the STEM Aviation. Nashua is really focusing on the drones, but our program will include drones, too. Manchester is more doing the mechanical side and is probably going to be partnering with the Manchester-Boston Airport.
In fact, she said, the airport is possibly going to make available a vacant building on its property to let students "really dive into the mechanical end of things.”
The aviation curriculum, according to Schrader, is based “heavily on science and math with an aviation-bent.”
“It covers all careers in aviation, not just pilots or not just mechanics or anything like that,” she said. “It’s main focus is on science and math.”
“It’s an unbelievably exciting opportunity,” said Joe Lentini, board chair, “especially in an area that is not going to be automated or outsourced.”
Last month, Bergeron said he was hopeful a plane would soon be heading to the high school.
“I’m actually working on three plane (opportunities) at the moment,” Bergeron said. “One is not airworthy, but it would be perfect to be used in the (STEM Aviation) mechanics program to work on and put back together, and possibly make it flight-ready.”
The two other planes in which he is interested would be used to help establish a flying club — the Eastern Slope Aviation Academy, to be based out of the Fryeburg airport.
“It’s an opportunity for STEM students to have an inexpensive way to learn how to fly,” said Bergeron, noting that airports typically charge $120 per hour to rent a plane and then $60-$70 an hour for a flight instructor.
“Our goal is to be able to get the whole hour for around $100,” he said.
The academy has formed a board of directors that includes Bergeron, along with Eric Meltzer, Jon Saxby, Rick Hiland and Frank Lunn.
Bergeron arranged for some special guests — Alaska-based flight instructor Jon Kotwicki, 28, and girlfriend Stephanie Blanchard — to visit Eastern Slope Regional Airport in Fryeburg, Maine, on Wednesday.
The pair set off early this year on a quest to fly a Cessna from Alaska to Florida, and from there to all 48 remaining states.
Kotwicki founded private pilot ground school Fly8MA. According to a story in General Aviation News, “The trip will last two years, and is being documented on the FLY8MA Vlog Channel and Flight Instruction Channel, as well as YouTube,"
Bergeron and students from Kennett High met Kotwicki and Blanchard at the airport, where they gave Discovery Flights.
Bergeron said there "was a good turnout of former STEM campers and others interested in Discovery Flights, women in aviation and STEM."
Kotwicki also was scheduled to give an FAA Wings safety program talk at the Fryeburg Academy Library in the Pike Room.
“The two-year trip will have more than 1,000 hours of flying, visiting more than 500 airports,” Kotwicki noted.