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Soaring to New Heights

The sky is the limit for McCreary Aerospace Academy students

By Eugenia Jones

The McCreary Aerospace Academy, headquartered at the McCreary County Airport in Pine Knot, continues to soar as it engages middle/high school students in aerospace career paths.  Established in 2016 by McCreary County native, Dr. Tim Smith, the Academy provides multiple opportunities for students to engage in an online content management system (similar to university Blackboard systems) as well as hands-on labs (flight simulation, engineering, manufacturing, and maintenance.)  All students help with restoration of aircraft.  Pointing to a 172 Cessna Skyhawk recently donated to the Academy by Oneida School District, Smith notes that all students help with restoration of aircraft.

During their first year, students are typically introduced to aerospace engineering, manufacturing, operations, and maintenance.  The second year of the program offers an introduction to aeronautics and flight while the third year focuses on advance Aeronautics and Private Piloting.  Students explore advanced aerospace topics during their fourth year.  

“Students can have their private pilot licenses before they go on to complete an aerospace career path,” Smith shared.  “This program gives students from McCreary County a head start on their peers.  My personal goals are to help kids in McCreary County learn more science and math and to develop career paths for those kids who are passionate about aerospace.  A lot of people don’t realize the aerospace manufacturing industry is a leading industry in Kentucky and across the nation.”

Two local high-schoolers, Ethan Slaven and Jason Chesser, will soon begin their apprenticeships at ATS, a full service maintenance facility operating out of Oneida, TN and Williamsburg, KY.  The two students will work for three years under the supervision and guidance of A & P Mechanic Eric Wise.  The students will be paid for their work while completing their apprenticeships.  Upon completion of their apprenticeships, the students will still need to pass their final certification test but will have obtained their airframe and power plane certifications.

Chesser said his mother read about the McCreary Aerospace Academy on Facebook.  After enrolling in the program, Chesser explored aircraft maintenance and then chose maintenance as his career path.

Slaven, who has been working with traffic patterns on the simulator, wants to learn to fly.  However, maintenance is his chosen career path, and he is eagerly looking forward to his apprenticeship.

“I like working with my hands,” Slaven said.  “Maintenance fits with that.”

There are basically two ways for local students to get an A & P Mechanic License.  First, students can attend Somerset Community College to obtain a license.  Secondly, students can prove they have three years of FAA approved work experience with the FAA then determining if students are eligible for testing.

Dr. Smith is extremely proud of the success of the Academy.  He points to excellent work from all of the students and notes one Academy graduate is now pursuing a career in aviation (commercial pilot) at Eastern Kentucky University.

Pointing to a 172 Cessna Skyhawk recently donated to the Academy by Oneida School District, Smith acknowledges the many people and organizations who have supported the Academy including the partners of Outdoor Venture/J.C. Egnew, McCreary County Airport Board, McCreary County Fiscal Court, McCreary Aerospace Academy Advisory Council, and Big South Fork Aerospace, LLC.  He also recognizes the parents of students and the many others who have donated materials, time, and funding.

“We help kids get a head start in middle and high school,” Smith said.  “Then they can go on and do great things.  Our kids can do anything they want-anything they imagine.  With the McCreary Aerospace Academy, we help them connect the dots.”

Photos by Eugenia Jones
(Above) McCreary Aerospace Academy students explore various aviation career paths.  The program, based at McCreary County Airport, is open to middle and high school students. (Below) Ethan Slaven and Jason Chesser are high school students who are beginning paid apprenticeships for mechanic certification.

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