ROCHESTER — Flight simulators and drones are now part of the curriculum offerings for the Spaulding High School Air Force Junior ROTC.
Entering the classroom, known as the Aviation Learning Lab, you see drones in preparation for use and cadets active on flight simulators.
Student cadets sit in a position not unlike that of the cabin of a small plane. They perform a preflight check, take off and, using a yoke, steer the plane toward a destination anywhere in the world. Flying virtually over someplace like the Taj Mahal from Rochester is not out of the question.
Under supervision, student cadets take drones outside and learn to fully operate them, earning a drone pilot certificate.
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Spaulding junior Maximus Facteau joined the program seeing “it was a way to start my career in aviation while still in high school.” Facteau’s favorite part is the flight simulator, calling it “the closest I have ever gotten to being in the cockpit of an aircraft.”
This program will give students a path toward a future in aviation.
“I know one thing for certain I plan on staying tightly knit with the aviation community during every stage of my life,” Facteau said.
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Drones are expected to become more prevalent as technology evolves.
“Medications will be transferred between healthcare facilities especially in large traffic- clogged areas. Medically equipped drones with emergency supplies and portable defibrillators will be in use. Drones can be used as mini cell towers. Lots of neat stuff is coming that will need trained pilots, payload specialists and support crews,” said Parks L. Christenbury, chief pilot for the Strafford County Sheriff’s Office.
The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, which advocates for the aviation industry, states in the next 20 years the industry is going to need more than 700,000 civil aviation pilots and approximately the same number of maintenance technicians.
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The program will also have a component for aircraft maintenance.
Maj. Daniel Heeter, senior aerospace science instructor for AFJROTC, said, “The new portion of the program offers the students the ability to explore many pathways in the aerospace industry.”
“I jumped up and down with excitement when I heard the news of the new programs,” said Michele Halligan-Foley, director of Career Technical Education at Spaulding’s R.W. Creteau Career Technology Center.
Currently the program is in its initial stages. When fully operative in the fall, it will provide opportunities for students from Somersworth High School, Oyster River High School and Nute High School, among others.
The program came together through a joint effort of Rochester school officials, the Federal Aviation Administration and the New Hampshire Department of Education.
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As the Spaulding program ramps up, it has inspired some student cadets.
Senior Spencer Lemelin has qualified for the prestigious Air Force Academy and is focused on a career in the sky.
“There is a global shortage of pilots right now, and there are a ton of different programs to increase the number of pilots,” Lemelin said.