GRAND RAPIDS — The aviation maintenance technology students at Kent Career/Technical Center will enjoy a more complete program now that the school has acquired a federal surplus helicopter.
“That was one of the pieces that were missing,” KC/TC instructor Jerry Spangler said of the Bell Jet Ranger helicopter the program received in July for a token cost of $2,500. The helicopter was one of several available to law enforcement agencies and schools.
The school plans to have the aircraft operational by the end of the school year, said Dennis Stine, a para-instructor with the program. The students will help reassemble the helicopter, which was brought to the program’s hangar and classroom at the Gerald R. Ford International Airport by truck from Pennsylvania. Once the aircraft is reassembled, students will get hands-on experience with starting the engine and preparing the machine for flight.
The students, who are juniors and seniors from high schools throughout Kent County, learn about maintaining the aircraft but do not actually fly them. Many of them are looking forward to the day they can fly, with plans to go on to flight school and maintenance programs in college.
Stine said the students work on seven airplanes, four of which are still flyable. Soon students also will be working on the helicopter, which will give them experience with a rotary wing.
“That’s going to kind of round us out,” he said.
Students learn more than just maintenance, Stine said. They also become familiar with air traffic control communications, weather and the corporate side of aviation.
“We’re letting them know there’s more to aviation than just the mechanic and the pilot,” he said.
Other plans for the helicopter involve teaching KC/TC students who are in health and criminal justice programs how to handle being in and around a helicopter in their line of work.
The students come to the program for two hours and 15 minutes a day, and receive credit as they would for any high school class. With the knowledge they’re accumulating, aviation program participants can more easily transition into higher education aviation programs.
“They can concentrate on other things in the (higher learning) program,” Stine said. “It’s just a head start for them in the aviation field.”
The lab is arranged like a typical hangar, Stine said, with work being done on several airplanes as well as engines and other components.
“For getting into the environment, it’s a real good start,” he said.
Billy Smith, a senior at East Grand Rapids High School, said he joined the program because he believes air transportation will continue to be a viable career choice.
“It’s never going to go out of style,” he said of flying.
The class has helped him get a better grasp of the aviation field and how a plane operates, Smith said.
“When you take this class, you think about how many things go on just to get this plane up, and it broadens your mind,” he said. “It’s something you might end up doing for the rest of your life — and love it.”
Instructor Todd Olson said the students have to use math, science and other basic subjects throughout the projects. Students learn basic skills of working with tools and metal by crafting a bucking bar, a tool that they will use while working with jet engines.
“There are a lot of skills you have to acquire,” Olson said. “It gives them a new way to learn and to apply the math and the science.”
Randy Driesenga II, a homeschooled student from Cedar Springs, said he is using the program to prepare for flight and aviation maintenance school. Driesenga said the program is helping him achieve his goal of becoming a missionary pilot and being able to do repairs on his plane.
“It was the best choice I ever made, coming to this class,” he said. “This class taught me a lot of things that will further me along in the aviation program.”