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UAA, ASD partnership puts high school students in the sky

Published: Aug. 25, 2021 at 6:01 AM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - This summer, four students from King Tech High School’s aviation technology course are learning to become some of the youngest pilots in the state as they earn their private pilots licenses.

The program is possible through a partnership between the University of Alaska Anchorage and the Anchorage School District.

Roberto Zuniga Pena is one of those students, who said he’s been surrounded by aviation his whole life growing up in Alaska.

“My mom, she worked in the aviation industry her whole life and I’ve always loved aviation through her,” he said. “But I just never thought about actually doing it. Until like last year when I started taking the class. Ever since then, I’ve wanted to be a pilot and here I am working on it.”

The students all have to learn the basics after finishing ground school. They eventually work their way up to more complex techniques like navigating turbulence or bad weather, and what to do if an engine goes out. The final test is a 50-mile solo flight before they get the private pilot license. The students fly five days a week during the program for up to two hours each day.

According to one of the UAA flight instructors, Colby Myers, it’s a pretty rigorous course, but there’s a lot of potential on the Merrill Field runway.

“We have put them on a daily schedule. So they have a flight every day of the week and then they’re off on the weekends. So (we’re) pushing them through the program a little bit quicker than some of the other students at the school right now,” Myers said, who said he has been a pilot for about five years now. “I believe it’s going well. They seem to be retaining a lot of information, and the more you fly, the more proficient you stay.”

In addition to the skills learned, the university said the program helps students save on the hefty costs to acquire a private pilot’s license, which could cost someone around $14,000.

When the students near the end of the program, Myers said they are in a more opportune position than he was when he was first getting in the cockpit.

“By the time they’re at my position they’re going to be, well, more than four years ahead of me,” he said.

Zuniga Pena said his end goal is to be a commercial pilot, but he still needs to accumulate many flight hours before that time comes. Already having his private pilot’s license within reach at the age of 18 — not to mention the thousands of dollars he saved by being in the program — places him in a good spot to reach his goal, he said.

“I’m grateful that I got this opportunity because not everyone gets the opportunity to be able to fly,” Zuniga Pena said.

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