Eric Sajna wasn’t nervous at all. But his Pillans Middle School classmate, Jonathan Duvall, said going up in an airplane was “too exciting for my stomach.”
The boys were part of a group of five Pillans students who joined pilots from Flight Training of Mobile for a flight from Mobile Aeroplex at Brookley as part of the Airbus Flying Challenge.
Under the program, which is in its second year at Pillans, Airbus Engineering employees serve as mentors to Pillans students who have an interest in aviation. The program includes weekly mentoring sessions and field trips, including the ropes course at Camp Beckwith and the Airbus final assembly line.
“It’s all about encouraging and engagement in learning, increasing exposure to STEM subjects, increasing exposure to different career opportunities for aviation, but also other STEM fields,” said Laurie Childers, vice president of community impact for the United Way of Southwest Alabama, which helps sponsor the program along with the Gulf Coast Exploreum Science Center and the Mobile Area Education Foundation.
“We want them to have a chance to find out that STEM is fun and interesting,” Childers said of the students. “But we also want to give them time with caring adults who can encourage them and answer questions about college and career and that kind of thing.”
The program is funded by the Airbus Foundation and is one of only two in the United States. The other is in Wichita, Kansas. It was started in 2012 in Toulouse, France, where Airbus is headquartered.
The flights are the culminating event of the program, which runs throughout the spring semester. “This is an opportunity for the students to go up and learn: What do you do when you’re flying an aircraft? And just get a really hands-on sense of what aviation really is,” Childers said.
Forty-six students are participating in the program this spring, and they get their opportunities to fly on different days. Last Friday, Sajna, Duvall and three other students were paired one-on-one with a pilot at Flight Training of Mobile and were taken up for a flight of about 20 minutes each in single-engine aircraft along the edge of Mobile Bay.
“It was an experience,” Duvall said. “For the first time, it was kind of too exciting for my stomach, but I liked it. The water kind of looked like it stopped a little bit, like the waves weren’t moving.”
Pillans is a feeder school to B.C. Rain High School, which houses a Signature Academy for Aviation and Aerospace.