By KEITH RYAN CARTWRIGHT
Rutherford County Schools
Scott Myers said he’s comfortable admitting he is the least educated faculty member at Siegel High School.
That said, he’s the only faculty member – perhaps, in all of Rutherford County – who can not only land a plane, but also take apart a $10-15 million fighter jet piece by piece and, more importantly, reassemble it and personally ensure it’s flight-ready.
Myers served in the United States Air Force for six years after graduating from high school in 1983.
It’s been 30 years since he served, but he still vividly remembers the first time a fighter pilot walked up to an F5 and asked, “Sgt. Myers, is it ready to fly?”
“Yes sir, it is,” he replied.
Without double-checking Myers’ claim, the pilot climbed into the cockpit, took off and promptly attempted a max climb.
When the pilot returned to the airstrip, he parked it along the flight line. That was the only indication Myers needed that it was ready to be actively flown after having one of its wings removed and completely reassembled.
“That guy trusts me,” Myers recalled of the responsibility each member of his team had and the expectation “that you can trust all the guys you work with.”
“That’s what I want to instill in these young people,” Myers added.
Myers is referring to the first group of Siegel High students to enroll in the brand-new aviation program at the school.
Instructors like Myers — who has a history of being effective in his chosen profession — bring credibility to programs like the aviation pathway at Siegel. Hiring those types of teachers can be difficult but ultimately makes a huge difference in the classroom, Director of Schools Bill Spurlock said.
“Students are going to recognize the knowledge he brings,” Spurlock said.
Midway through its first year, Myers has four periods of Introduction to Aerospace with a total of 70 students. Next school year, he plans to add Aviation I followed by Aviation II classes for the 2020–2021 school year.
“I feel like there’s a lot of young people who like planes and want to see what this is all about,” said Myers, a licensed aircraft mechanic who brings more than 30 years of field experience to the classroom.
Beginning this week, the aviation program is now housed in the newly constructed and just opened addition to Siegel High School.
The entire addition is 27,000 square feet and includes a lecture hall, two art rooms, a pair of science labs and eight classrooms, including two aviation rooms. The new classrooms feature recently purchased flight simulators.
Four of Myers’ students — Jarrett Newcomb, Ethan Barnes, Mason Wiley and Luke Blain — spent their own time during winter break to help set up the new classrooms. Myers said the five of them had to unbox all the equipment, set it all up and then test each of the simulators.
Myers is ecstatic to have impacted four students in a semester that previously was confined to lectures and bookwork.
Unlike the first semester, the introductory class is no longer about reading from a book. The simulators give students a chance to see and, more importantly, experience firsthand what it is like to be at the controls of an airplane.
For students who will eventually follow a four-year pathway, Myers said the goal is to prepare them to pass the written FFA exam in the process of earning a license to become a private pilot. Those results are valid for two years and required before being allowed to do a flight check for those who choose to enroll in a local flight school.
For the students who do move into an actual plane, the cockpit will not be entirely foreign to them.
“They will know what each instrument does,” Myers said.
He also hopes to add an enclosed flight simulator.
“There are a lot of next steps,” Myers said, “and one of them is to form an aviation club here at Siegel.”
Drone classes are also being planned for the program. The plan is to introduce drones to the club and then use club members to help with peer-to-peer exercises in the classroom.
Unmanned Aircraft Systems I and II are being developed, Myers said, adding Siegel hopes to graduate commercially licensed drone pilots.
“I was trying to find a program we could hang our hat on,” said Siegel principal Larry Creasy, who initially asked about starting an aviation program back in 2014 as a pathway to the Aerospace program at Middle Tennessee State University.
Even for students who do not pursue a career in aviation, the skills they are developing –— situational awareness, problem solving, critical thinking and reasoning — can be applied to everything from the medical field, to police, fire and rescue, as well as media or law.
Myers said he’s grateful Creasy and Career and Technical Education Coordinator Tyra Pilgrim have trusted him with the aviation program at Siegel “and then that comes down to Mr. Spurlock. These opportunities that we are going to give these young people are endless.”
“One of the things we want to do,” Spurlock said, “we want to put programs in our high schools that provide unusual and significant opportunities.”
Creasy said Spurlock is “very supportive of Career and Technical Education” courses and aviation is going to experience a hiring boom in the coming years.
“The industry is needing more bodies,” he added.
Last year, Myers attended an Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association symposium for high school teachers in which an executive from American Airlines said, “Folks, here’s the reality, we’re losing 75 percent of our workforce in the next 10 years. That’s the real thing.”
That loss is across the board and includes pilots, mechanics, flight attendants, ticket counter operators, air traffic controllers and ground personnel, Myers said.
Delta Airlines, which hosted the symposium, also recently partnered with the Department of Aerospace at Middle Tennessee State University, noted Creasy, who hopes to develop a dual enrollment program with the hometown university.
“The possibilities are endless,” Creasy said.
“The job market for this industry — for the next 20 years — is through the roof,” Myers said. “This is an introductory class about flight, but there are more jobs in the industry than that.”
Spurlock added, “I’m very excited with the possibilities. I look forward to it growing as we go forward with it.”