One of the schools leading the way in Kentucky’s aerospace education is Frankfort Independent High School.
Frankfort’s program, under the guidance of Mike Wagers, is one of only two high school programs in the country that carry Federal Aviation Administration 141 accreditation. The other program is Wagers’ former school, the Academy of Shawnee in Jefferson County, where he wrote the training course outlines that were approved at both schools for the accreditation.
“We have the same accreditation as most university aviation programs. Actually, we have higher accreditation than most university aviation programs because not all collegiate level courses are federally certified,” Wagers said.
Frankfort Independent’s Aerospace Academy is a multischool program, which includes students from Franklin County Schools, Anderson County Schools and some home-school students.
Frankfort’s program has more than 75 students and those students scored 17 percent higher than the state average on their ACT, and the average ACT score for the students meets college readiness benchmarks in math and science.
Austin Harrod, a sophomore at Franklin County High School who participates in Frankfort High’s program, said his grades and interest in other subjects both have risen since he joined the program.
“I used to be a C student in science, now I’m an A student,” Harrod said. “To be a pilot, you have to know English. You have to read, speak and understand the English language.”
While four students last year got their pilot’s license, not all students are looking for a career as a pilot. Harrod said he wants to go into the military.
Mark Bryan, a sophomore at Frankfort High, said he wants to pursue a career in aerospace engineering. Bryan had been homeschooled but decided to enroll at Frankfort after spending a year in the program.
Wagers, who flew and instructed in the U.S. Marine Corps, said he wishes aerospace programs had been available when he was in high school.
“You have to be 16 to (fly) solo, 17 to get your (pilot’s) license, which in a sense is a really good eye opener for students because one of the things in schools we don’t teach anymore is character development and moral leadership,” Wagers said. “Being a former Marine myself, it’s one thing that I hit hard because the responsibility of being able to do that at 17 years old, it really allows you to know, ‘Hey, the decisions I make today can affect me for the rest of my life.’”
While the students have aerospace classes during the school day, they spend time outside of regular school hours on other aerospace activities. The students are currently building an airplane, participating in a wing design contest and recently spent a Saturday morning flying with Wagers in a small BushCat airplane.
“We’re having a lot of fun,” Wagers said.