(photography courtesy of Molly Ingram, The Island News)
When 18-year-old senior Mark Hatrick climbed into the cockpit of an SNJ2 at the MCAS Beaufort Airshow he didn’t know what to expect. After all, the planes flown by the GEICO Skytypers are older than his grandparents.
“I never thought just looking at the outside of these planes that they’d have as much technology in the cockpit as they do: GPS, glass panels and everything.”
That’s exactly the kind of a-ha moment his instructor hoped the planeside visit with the GEICO Skytypers would set in motion.
Anthony Petrucci is the aerospace engineering and aviation instructor at Battery Creek High School’s “Project Lead the Way” – a national S.T.E.M. program that lets high school students earn college credit toward careers in aviation. He says the chance for his students to see 1940’s – era mechanical controls and cockpit displays adds a fresh perspective to their classroom studies. Especially for students who grew up in the age of high-resolution graphics, heads-up displays and the simplified cockpits of video games.
“Technicians today sometimes have difficulty troubleshooting. They’re used to computer diagnostics telling them which options to test when something’s not working. With the SNJs it’s all about the fundamentals and how you actually have to apply them to maintain and fly this vintage plane.”
He couldn’t have picked two more qualified pilots to be the link from classroom to careers. Tom Daly is the Dean of Aviation at Dowling School of Aviation in Long Island and Jim Record is an aviation professor there. They took time out of prepping for the Beaufort airshow to show the planes to Hatrick and fellow senior Ian Klauck and talk to them about the wide range of careers in aviation.
“If kids start college with a mission, knowing what they want to do, they have a much higher completion rate and end up with successful careers,” Daly says. “I’m putting aviation students into jobs before they even graduate – the sky really is the limit if they’re well prepared.”
He’s already hired graduates of a similar dual-enrollment program in New York: Skytypers lead technician Frank Atria.
“Physics didn’t make sense to me until I enrolled in an aviation program like the one at Battery Creek,” says Atria. “What’s different about this type of training is that you end up using every single thing you learned in school, from math to fabric work and metal forming.”
With any luck, the 110 students in Patrucci’s program at Battery Creek will follow in Atria’s footsteps. They’ll graduate one rung up on the aviation career ladder, already exposed to the critical math, science and engineering skills in demand by local employers like the air station in Beaufort, Boeing in Charleston and Gulfstream in Savannah.
Mark Hatrick, for one, seems ready for takeoff. He took one last look at the SNJ’s controls and patted the silver fuselage of a piece of aviation history. “These are beauties. But my main goal is to design the next generation of planes.”