Cape Girardeau aviation students get to experience class in the air

Friday, April 20, 2012 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

CAPE GIRARDEAU — A group of 10 high school juniors and seniors in the Cape Girardeau Career and Technology Center's aviation program soon won't have to wonder what it's like to fly high in the cockpit of a commercial airliner. They'll have done it during the school day as a job shadowing activity.

A recent partnership between Cape Air and the center's yearlong aviation program recently sent the students on round trips from Cape Girardeau to St. Louis twice daily. On the trips, one student accompanied the pilot in the cockpit of one of the airline's small passenger planes. Students in the program say their experience is exclusive.

"It's pretty cool that I am flying while everyone else is sitting at their desks in school," said Zack Horton, a Jackson High School senior.

Horton signed up for the program because he wants to become an Air Force pilot and later a commercial pilot. If he does, he'll follow a career path similar to that of an uncle who flew B-52s and stealth fighter jets in the military and later worked as a commercial pilot for Delta Air Lines. He said he is hopeful the experience could give him some insight into how commercial pilots operate on a daily basis. As he waited Tuesday at the Cape Girardeau Regional Airport, he said that instruments used by those pilots were precise.

Dan Thurber, Cape Air's assistant chief pilot for the Midwest region, answered questions about instruments and traffic control from Cape Central High School senior Hunter Shantz during their flight Tuesday.

Thurber said an advantage of allowing job shadowing is that it lets the students know what they are working their way up to if they want to become a pilot.

"I hope they get some good out of it and it works," he said. "There wasn't anything like this when I was going through training."

Students receive a student pilot certificate at the end of the year if they meet all requirements of the course, said Don Grossheider, the program's coordinator and student flight instructor. That certification is the first training step in later becoming a commercial pilot or a flight instructor.

"It doesn't matter where you end up," Grossheider said. "Everyone starts as student pilots."

Shantz's parents, Dianne and Bo, visited the airport Tuesday to watch him return from his flight with Thurber. Although Hunter Shantz isn't planning on becoming a professional pilot, Dianne Shantz said the aviation program and the partnership were great opportunities for students.

"It's great for a senior to have something new to get interested in," she said.

According to Grossheider, a search he conducted of high school-level aviation education programs all around the country turned up few similar experiences for students as are offered in the partnership between the airline and the center.

Cape Air spokeswoman Jennifer HuffmanC said the company's small size allows it to operate differently than large airlines with stringent security measures such as closed cockpits.

"We are doing this because it's an opportunity to give kids in this region a look at what it's like in the day of a pilot," she said. "That's not something they could see every day."

Hunter Shantz agreed.

"Not a lot of people can say they have done it," he said. "And it's just great fun."

Cape Air Charter also works with the center to provide aircraft for the students' flight practices.

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