Chemistry. Math. English. Flight school.
During the weekday, Desert Ridge High School senior James Clark studies equations and science, language and weather.
On Saturdays, he soars the skies above Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport.
Clark, 17, is among a small group of high school students working toward their private pilot’s licenses through the East Valley Institute of Technology’s aviation program.
The students take their core academic classes at their local high schools, then travel to Chandler-Gilbert Community College’s east campus for ground school and flight school.
The program prepares students for a four-year degree that can launch their aviation careers.
But first, they have to get through their initial solo flights.
During ground school, a college-level class, students study airspace, weather, aerodynamics, flight control systems, flight physiology ,and rules and regulations.
“It’s brutal,” said Clark. “If you don’t stay on top of it, it can bite you on the butt.”
Before they’re allowed to take control of a plane on their own, they also go through an interview process.
All that training – more than a year of classes – takes over in the air, said Yafeth Basquez, 18, a senior at Chandler’s Perry High School.
“You’ve just got to stay calm and not let the nerves get to you,” he said. “Once you start the engine, the training takes over and you forget to be nervous. Once you take off, you get far, far away from the ground and it doesn’t seem realistic.”
Before he took off on his first solo flight earlier this semester, Highland High School senior Charles White, 17, said his nerves came to the surface.
“As the day went on you have those little butterflies in your stomach,” White said.
First, White and his instructor did three takeoffs and landings. Then the instructor got out of the plane.
“Once I realized I was alone in the aircraft, that’s when I started getting nervous,” he said.
But the students said they feel well prepared.
“It’s surprising how much your training kicks in,” said Gilbert High School senior Jordan De La Rosa, 17. “You start doing it and you amaze yourself.”
While in training, the teens earn their student pilot’s certificates. Before they receive their private pilot’s licenses, students complete a written and practical exam.
The students earn high school elective credit for the class, as well as college credit. If they stay on target, those credits transfer to the University of North Dakota.
While the class is offered through EVIT, students pay about $9,500 for the private pilot’s training. Many of the students in Lou Amadee’s class said they worked during the summer to save for training and continue to work during the school year.
Before students even enter the two-year program, Amadee sits down with them – along with their parents - to talk about the class and the costs.
“We let them know it’s going to be tough. It’s going to be intense. And we tell the kids it’s not going to be fun until it’s over,” he said. “Once they start to solo you see big smiles and they start to see what it’s all for.”