DES MOINES, Iowa – After moving large aircraft down public streets over the weekend from the Des Moines Airport to McCombs Middle School, the Des Moines Public Schools new aviation facility is up and running.
Wednesday marked the first day students in the district’s FAA-approved aviation program began classes in the brand-new facility, located behind McCombs Middle School. The district has operated one of the nation’s only three high school aviation programs since 1947 from a hangar at the Des Moines Airport. However, the district lost its lease this year, and was faced with the option of either eliminating the program, or building its own hangar.
“There’s been 100 percent support to keep this program alive,” said Tim Harmer, an aviation instructor with the program. “With the new facility, we’ll be able to accommodate more students, because it’s larger. We’ll be able to store more aircraft. And we’ll also be expanding the pilot-side of the program, as well. Which, coming into this new facility, we’ll be adding a flight simulator.”
Up until now, the program was heavily-focused on the mechanical side of operating aircraft. Though the aircraft stored at the facility will never actually take off, Harmer says they are kept in flying condition for the students’ learning benefit. The new flight simulator will allow students to log flight hours, preparing them for a career after high school in flight operations.
Harmer says it’s important to keep the district’s aviation program alive because it gives students who don’t wish to pursue a typical four-year collegiate career after high school the chance to prepare for a career in technical work. Additionally, students who do wish to continue developing their skills at a college have the opportunity to earn up to 42 credits while in the district’s program through Indian Hills Community College in Ottumwa.
“With the amount of job opportunities out there for pilots and mechanics, it’s a great venue for people who like piloting or like the mechanics, to not go down the collegiate level after high school and jump right into a career,” Harmer said.