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    HHS Aviation students, from front left, Max Smith and Mason Shepherd; center, Josh Simonds, Morgan Dudley and Hughston Turner; back, Brent Lance, Scott Hanna and owner/builder Rod Davis won an all-expenses paid trip to Arlington, Wash. where they built an aircraft in less than two weeks. The group competed against more than 130 other schools around the country to win the honor.

Aviation class soaring

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Very few people have the opportunity to build an aircraft from scratch. Most people would have no idea where to begin. In late June, five Hayesville High School aviation students got to build a plane from the bottom up, all because they won the General Aviation Manufacturers Association Aviation Design Challenge Competition. 

From Sunday-Saturday, June 9-22 HHS students Morgan Dudley, Mason Shepherd, Max Smith, Josh Simonds and Hughston Turner traveled on an all-expenses paid trip of a lifetime. The consensus seems to be, the trip will shape their individual futures for the rest of their lives. 

Hughston Turner shared his excitement. “The two weeks we spent on the GAMA trip were some of the best in my life,” he said. “Not only were they tremendous fun, but they also taught me real life skills relating to my future career in aerospace engineering.” 

Smith agreed. “The build gave me a chance to experience something that might be my future career,” he said. 

The award is such a big deal because the HHS team won the competition against more than 130 schools from around the country. Science teacher Bryan Hedden is proud of the students’ accomplishments. “In the aviation community, winning this national GAMA competition is like a college team winning a national football or basketball championship,” he said. “Winning this is a really big deal and the aviation coursework at Hayesville High has tremendous potential to benefit students in our local area.”

HHS aviation and science teacher Brent Lance shared more about the competition. “In the spring semester of 2019, Hayesville High School aviation students entered their second GAMA Aviation Design Challenge Competition,” Lance explained. “They finished first place in the nation out of more than one hundred thirty judged entries. Only one award is given, which shows they are considered the best of the entities entered.”

The five students made the cross country, twelve-day trip to Arlington, Wash., accompanied by three Hayesville High School faculty members: Lance, Melissa Cheek and Scott Hanna. The students worked side-by-side with five of Glasair’s expert builders to build a Glasair Sportsman aircraft in Glasair Aviation’s Two Weeks to Taxi build program. In addition, they worked alongside the plane’s future owner, Rod Davis of St. Louis, Mo., who had chosen the TWTT program rather than purchasing a kit and building it himself. 

“The students gained experience in various stages of the building process as they learned how to perform their daily tasks,” Lance continued. “They used a variety of rivets and fasteners to secure parts to the plane, learned about the use of aircraft-grade bolts, nuts, washers, cotter pins and safety wire. They learned how to bend aluminum and steel tubing and prepare it for installation and so much more.” 

Lance said, “The students drilled and ratcheted their way to helping the Glasair team complete the build two days ahead of schedule and the aircraft completed the first start-up and taxi on Wednesday, June 19 instead of its anticipated date of Friday, June 21.”

During the build, a former vice president of Boeing stopped by and flew students in his plane. Lance said students even took the controls as they flew in a Cirrus SR22 aircraft and a Glasair Sportsman, just like the one they helped build. Because they were ahead of schedule, the group toured Glasair’s factory. “They learned how the composite carbon fiber fuselage was made, how the passenger cage was welded and how the inventory was managed,” Lance said.

The teens enjoyed local sight-seeing during their extra time. Downtown Seattle, the Museum of Flight and a ferry from the mainland to Friday Harbor were some of the places the group visited. “Deception Pass was one of their favorite places, so they went there to enjoy nature two times,” Lance said. “They still managed to catch opening night for the Disney Pixar “Toy Story 4” movie at a local theater.” 

He shared a statement made by GAMA following the build. “The winning team was a wonderful group of individually impressive students and educators, who worked well together and with the Glasair staff and builder. GAMA hopes that the experience was fun and educational and will inspire the students — and others — to consider careers in general aviation manufacturing.”

Lance said one of the GAMA officials said the young people could have jobs there in a few years, if they want. He actually told some of them they could stay now.

Lance bragged on his students after they returned. “The students represented themselves, their community and their school well,” he said. “Most importantly, it really gave them some valuable work and life experiences. They saw how an organized workplace is supposed to run, how a team of talented individuals works together toward a common goal with a deadline in place and why it is important to do their part and be an accountable contributor.”

Hanna expressed his pride, too. “My faith in our teens has been restored,” he said. “I was so proud of our young aviation class during the airplane build in Arlington. They worked from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. and loved it.”

Lance provided the history of how a small school like Hayesville ended up having aviation classes. “Approximately three years ago, aviation classes at Hayesville High School became a reality through the vision and leadership of former principal, Mickey Noe, as part of the school’s Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics initiative,” Lance explained. “It took on a new acronym, STEAM, adding an ‘A’ for ‘Aviation.’ Since that time, the aviation component has steadily developed with a grassroots effort piloted by science teacher and STEAM leader, Bryan Hedden and teacher assistant and aircraft pilot, Scott Hanna.”

In the fall of 2018, Lance was hired to supplement the aviation instruction team. Not only does Lance have 13 years of science and STEM education experience, he has five years of chemical research background and has apprenticed with Vic Payne of Brasstown to build experimental aircraft. “This team of dynamic faculty members is working with a dedicated group of community aviators, the Western Carolina Youth Aviation Foundation, to continue to perpetuate opportunities for local area students to experience various aspects of aviation at the high school level and to pursue further education and employment in this growing career field,” Lance said.

Along with WCYAF, several local pilots have taken an interest in the program and have donated time and money to acquire equipment. Some of them even built flight simulators for the school which has allowed the program to expand at little cost to the schools. “We are blessed to have the simulators,” Lance said. “Many are not as robust as ours. One of ours could get certified by the FAA which will give students flight hours.”

Even though the HHS aviation courses are not yet a full aviation program, Lance said the schools purchased a curriculum which is the first step to a full fledge program. There are fewer than 100 schools nationwide which have an aviation program. “Opportunities for careers in aviation are growing — not just pilots,” Lance added. “There are aircraft designers and mechanics. The support jobs are incredible. The need for drone operators is just beginning.”

Dudley graduated just a few days before the group made the trip. She will be studying aviation in college. “I am thankful to have had the opportunity to travel to Seattle and to participate in the Two Weeks to Taxi program with Glasair Aviation,” Dudley said. “The trip has provided me with an incredible amount of structural knowledge of aircraft that will benefit me in the rest of my aviation career.”

School chaperone Cheek believes the trip was beneficial. “As an educator at HHS, I am grateful to GAMA and its partners for providing this exciting real-world educational experience for our students.”

Hanna ended, “Let’s do it again next year.”

Anyone who would like to know more about Hayesville High School’s aviation program may leave a message at the school for Lance. Call 389-6532.


By Lorrie Ross/ Staff Writer

Clay County Progress

Mailing Address: PO Box 483, Hayesville, NC 28904
Physical Address: 43 Main Street, Hayesville, NC 28904
Phone: 828-389-8431
Fax: 828-389-9997