- Associated Press - Sunday, April 17, 2016

CADDO, Ala. (AP) - East Lawrence High School freshman Garrett Rodgers always dreamed of defying gravity as a pilot.

He’s learning the basics through a series of workshops with FlyQuest, a Huntsville nonprofit organization. The organization started teaching a group of 10 East Lawrence students the fundamentals of flying April 4 in hopes they will pursue careers in aviation.

The class fits Rodgers’ plan to receive a pilot’s license, but he doesn’t want to fly alone. He wants to one day pilot a plane for his two autistic brothers, so they can enjoy a part of life they might not experience otherwise.

“Maybe they will be more comfortable if I’m with them,” said Rodgers, 15. “You’re a lot freer in the sky. Just the experience of not being tied down by the ground and laws would be great.”

The class is split into two parts. Every Monday, the students gather to learn aerodynamics, plane mechanics and other basics in the classroom. FlyQuest’s instructors then try to bring those fundamentals to life through field trips to local airports. Students will get a behind-the-scenes tour of Huntsville International Airport on April 25.

Although the students won’t receive a license from the class, Principal Jacki Hall said it lays the foundation for students who are still figuring out life after high school.

“A lot of the times we have students who graduate and don’t know what they want to do. This is opening the door,” Hall said. “You never know what’s going to spark their interests until you try it. Who knows? We may get some pilots out of this experience.”

Freshman Megan Appleton signed up for the class the moment she heard about it. She was shocked by the amount of math behind the power of flight. A fan of numbers, it only deepened her love for the subject.

Her stepfather, who also likes to study airplanes, would be proud if she received her license, she said.

“He always wanted to do it, but he never was able to fulfill it,” Appleton said. “I feel like I am fulfilling it for him.”

Although FlyQuest has operated many courses in Madison County, George Davis, of Moulton, introduced the program to Lawrence County Schools. He did it to expand the students’ horizons, he said. After graduating from East Lawrence in 1985, Davis tinkered with plane equipment as an Air Force aircraft mechanic for 20 years. He is now a general manager of Signature Flight Support, which provides services for the Huntsville airport.

He contacted Hall in May 2015 and offered to bring his knowledge and expertise to the classroom.

“Most of the kids who live in rural areas are trained on factory and farm equipment,” Davis said. “We’re trying to take them beyond that. We want them to realize there’s more out there for them.”

Davis said he tries to keep the classroom experience interesting by bringing in tangible items such as a wing of an airplane or a drone. Like military pilots, the students are given a call sign.

Rodgers chose Slash after his favorite guitarist from the rock band Guns N’ Roses. During a field trip Monday to an agricultural airstrip on Lawrence 434 in Trinity, he was awed by the design of a Weatherly 620B. The aircraft is used to spray pesticides over crops.

He felt a little nervous when he jumped into the cockpit. He has never flown an airplane before, so he imagined a swarm of buttons and levels.

“I figured there would be everything popping out at me, but it felt very comfortable,” Rodgers said.

Davis hopes to dispel many misconceptions during the Huntsville trip. For instance, pilots aren’t the only ones working in the aviation field. An airport functions like a small city, he said. There are the firefighters on staff for emergency purposes, the accountants who handle the budgets and the air control personnel who patrol the skies.

But the No. 1 lesson Davis wants students to learn is they don’t have to fit a certain mold to become part of the aviator club.

“I don’t want them to think they have to be something special, super smart or rich to get into this field. I went to the same high school as them. I’m a farm boy just like them,” Davis said. “All you need is the opportunity.”


Information from: The Decatur Daily, https://www.decaturdaily.com/decaturdaily/index.shtml

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