GISD offers new aerospace engineering class for students

Twenty-four junior and senior students from Georgetown and East View high schools divided into three teams—Alpha, Bravo, Charlie—for this school year’s new program: aerospace engineering. During the double-block class, students earn college credit through the integrated Project Lead the Way (PTLW) curriculum and gain hands-on experience by building an actual plane. The goal is to complete the aircraft by the end of the school year, when students will have the opportunity to fly in it.

“The fact that they’re building an airplane is kind of secondary, but the kids don’t know that,” teacher Dan Weyant says. “We tell them that, but that’s not what they hear. They hear ‘we’re going to build and fly an airplane.’” But first they’ve had to learn the math and the science and the engineering behind the work.

Students learn about aviation and aerospace engineering not only in the classroom setting but also by working with aviation companies at Georgetown Municipal Airport and by assembling an RV-12 airplane. Van’s, a company out of Oregon, sells the kit. Dan says Van’s is “the company to do this.” He’s purchased from Van’s himself. He and his wife, Karen, have built a Van’s RV-9 model. “The RV-12 is a little slower, a little simpler [than the RV-9], but it’s still a very good, very solid airplane with an incredible safety record.”

But planes aren’t cheap, nor are kits. Ideally, Dan would like to buy two kits for the program. The plan is for the students to build both planes, keep one, and then sell the other in order to buy the kit for the following year’s class. The goal is for the class to be self-funding. Tango Flight, a local nonprofit corporation established by Kyle Keeling, owner of Genesis Flight Academy, Randy Rossi, a former aerospace engineer, and Dan Weyant, is working in conjunction with GISD and PLTW to promote the aerospace engineering class. Tango Flight handles fundraising and mentor recruitment.

Approximately 30 mentors from the local aircraft community have signed up to work with the students. Deene Ogden is one of those mentors. With a PhD in electrical engineering and almost 50 years of designing computers and computer chips at Texas Instruments and IBM, Deene’s first love is flying. “I started flying in 1966,” he says, “and have almost 4,000 hours flying as a commercial pilot and flight instructor.” Deene has also built and flown four experimental aircraft, most recently an RV-12, the model students are building.

Prior to the current aerospace engineering program, GISD was one of two school districts in the nation—not in the state of Texas, but in the nation—with an aviation program. The class, offered at both high schools and taught by Dan, allowed students to train to fly, “if they chose to spend the money . . . it’s not cheap, to work on getting their pilot’s license.”

Under the former aviation program, East View High School student Dane Van Speybroeck earned his pilot’s license last summer. He wants to be a pilot and pursue a career in aviation. To help finance his pilot training, Dane applied for the Harrison Ford Flight Training Scholarship—and won! “That’s a really big deal,” Dan says. “I think only four of those are given away each year.”

The aviation program transitioned into the aerospace engineering class, although students no longer earn their pilot’s license during school hours or for class credit. While a few similar programs are now underway across the nation, GISD is still on the cutting edge. In November, Dan and Randy attended the Second Annual Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) High School Aviation Stem Symposium in Seattle, Washington. They hoped to get ideas to advance Georgetown’s program, but instead found that other schools were looking to Georgetown as the model for their programs. GISD had the only program that included hands-on training through work at an airport.

The word is out about this class. Last fall, Texas A&M’s engineering department learned of Georgetown’s aerospace program and invited the students to campus for a tour of their aerospace engineering labs and wind tunnels. KVUE also featured the class in a news story. And last month, the students headed to Houston for a behind-the-scenes tour of NASA, arranged by one of their mentors, Jim Snowden, a former NASA flight controller.

The first semester of Georgetown’s aerospace engineering program has already provided many amazing opportunities for growth and learning, preparing the students for a bright future. Whether students are on the college track or the fast track into the workforce, jobs in aviation fields are in high demand.

“The students who want to go straight to work instead of to a university have knowledge of avionics, of what it takes to be a pilot and an airplane mechanic,” Dan says. “If they want to go into aerospace, mechanical, or really any engineering, [this class] gives students a lot more understanding of what they’re getting themselves into. My job is to prepare them for that.”


Visit www.pltw.org for more information about Project Lead the Way and its curriculum. Learn more about Tango Flight at www.tangoflight.org. To make a donation to this exciting project, visit www.GoFundMe.com/TangoFlight or www.eaa187.org. To follow the students and the work on their airplane, “Like” the Tango Flight Facebook page.

To learn about AOPA and its STEM Symposium visit www.aopa.org and youcanfly.aopa.org/high-school/symposium.

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