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FLYING HIGH: Aviation lessons help students soar to new heights

Brandon Anderson flew his first plane Monday afternoon. The seventh-grader from Superior Middle School is not taking flight lessons, but once the plane was in the air the pilot turned the controls over to Anderson -- for little a while. It was fu...

Brandon Anderson flew his first plane Monday afternoon.

The seventh-grader from Superior Middle School is not taking flight lessons, but once the plane was in the air the pilot turned the controls over to Anderson -- for little a while.

It was fun, he said.

"I thought that was awesome. It was cool ... just being up in the air and seeing everything below," said Kasey Kujawa, who rode with Anderson.

He was able to see his house while flying over Superior.

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"I'd easily do that again. That was sweet," Kujawa said.

Both Anderson and Kujawa are seventh graders at Superior Middle School. They were at the Richard I. Bong Airport with all the seventh grade students in the red wing Monday for their chance to fly in a small airplane.

The Experimental Aircraft Association gave 94 students airplane rides as part of its Young Eagle Flights program.

The Richard I. Bong Chapter of the Experimental Aircraft Association has been giving Young Eagle Flights in Superior for the past 12 years, said Dennis Peterson, EAA Chapter member.

"When you do this -- you can't wipe the smiles off their faces when they get off the plane," he said. "This is probably the most exciting thing they'll do all year in school."

The group started the rides with a class of troubled seventh graders at the former Central Middle School in a program that grew to cover that entire school and expanded to all district seventh graders when Superior Middle School opened. The seventh graders in the blue wing took their flights earlier this month, and green wing students are scheduled to fly Wednesday weather permitting.

The organization gives about 600 rides per year to kids through school or at community events.

The intent of the program is to introduce students to the concept of flight, he said.

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"Most kids have never been in a small plane before," Peterson said.

All the flights are given in small engine planes with only two or four seats. Lots of students aim to see their school or home during the flights, he said.

Brandon Dodge had never flown in a plane before.

"Everything was like four times as small," he said. "It's not something you get to see every day."

The rides correspond with a three week flight unit at the middle school.

Science classes do lift and drag lessons, and students in English classes learn vocabulary related to aviation. In social studies students learn about influential people in flight, and speakers visit classrooms to expound upon the building of airplanes, different types of planes used during World War II and what it was like to work fueling those same planes during the war, said Brook Pison, English teacher.

The unit taught a lot about the different aspects of flight, said seventh grader Raheem Vann.

Students also made rockets and launched them in science class, said seventh grader Will Wells.

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The seventh graders learned about flight before hopping into the planes. They also searched on aerial maps to find their school and homes so they'd be able to find them from the air, Pison said.

Dodge saw Superior and Duluth on his flight. He was able to pick out SMS and the mall. It's interesting to see the city from above, he said.

Each student is in the air for about 20-25 minutes, when they're not in the air or waiting for a flight, the students are given a tour of the airport, Peterson said.

They are shown the maintenance sheds and different types of aircraft. They learn information about behind-the-scenes jobs that are done at an airport, he said.

"This has been one of our major projects as a chapter," he said. "We do this for the fun of it."

In 2004, the chapter and Superior school district were honored with the Horizon Award by the Experimental Aircraft Association for their unique partnership in the flight program. Young Eagle Flights are given throughout the world, but Superior is unique because the flight lessons are brought into the school, he said.

To date, more than 1.3 million children have received rides through the Young Eagle Program worldwide.

The flight unit is a favorite for the seventh graders, Pison said.

"It's one of those things to get them motivated. It triggers something and makes them excited," she said. "The look on their faces. ... They all loved it. ... They had a good experience."

Students get excited about the unit when they learn in fall they'll have the option to fly in a small plane. That excitement is encouraging at the beginning of the year, especially from students who are otherwise hard to reach, she said.

It also helps the kids mature, Peterson said.

Taking a flight, especially flying the plane, is a self-esteem builder, said pilot Alan White.

Many kids are apprehensive getting into the airplane but are all smiles getting out, he said.

A Young Eagles pilot can watch the smiles grow as the flight progresses, he said.

The flights make a difference in the students in the classroom and even on the school bus, he said. White is a school bus driver.

They're more respectful on the bus after the flights, at least for a little while, he said.

"I think it's the best excuse someone ever dreamed up for going for an airplane ride," he said.

Anna Kurth covers education. Call her at (715) 395-5019 or e-mail akurth@superiortelegram.com .

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