Dare County Schools launches aviation lab at Wright Brothers National Memorial

Published 4:29 pm Tuesday, September 12, 2023

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One hundred and twenty years ago, Wilbur and Orville Wright made history in their Kitty Hawk Flyer with the first-ever powered flight. On Tuesday, September 5, history was made again as Dare County Schools (DCS) and the National Park Service (NPS) hosted a ribbon cutting for the opening of First Flight High School’s aviation lab at Wright Brothers National Memorial (WBNM). FFHS juniors and seniors will construct a Van’s RV-12iS aircraft, a modern two-seat all-metal side-by-side airplane, utilizing Tango Flight’s curriculum and build kit, right at the site where two brothers successfully crafted the first airplane 120 years ago.

“One of the things we stress in Dare County Schools all the time is options. And folks, when we’re talking about the option of being a high school student at First Flight High School and building an airplane that you’re going to ultimately fly, that’s a pretty huge option,” said DCS Superintendent Steve Basnight.

The idea to construct an airplane in DCS stemmed from Assistant Superintendent Steve Blackstock, who brought the possibility to the director of career and technical education, Dr. Shannon Castillo. Together, the two have provided an incredibly unique opportunity to students at FFHS.

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Over the next two years, students will take aviation I and aviation II courses, which will integrate disciplines of aerospace, electrical, mechanical, manufacturing and design engineering into hands-on learning. Building the airplane will reinforce STEM principles and objectives of the classroom curriculum. The course will be taught by Admiral Joey Tynch, who will be accompanied by volunteers/mentors from the Dare County Radio Control Flyers Club and the First Flight Society. After extensive testing and certification by the FAA, each student involved in the project will be invited to ride in the plane piloted by a Tango Flight member at WBNM’s First Flight Airport.

“We are honored to support you in this unique learning experience and we are excited to learn alongside of all of you,” said National Parks of Eastern North Carolina Superintendent David Hallac. “Rarely do we get the chance to tangibly explore the connection between modern flight and the achievements of the Wright Brothers. So much in aviation has changed since the first flight here in 1903, but the fundamentals of flight remain the same.”

The one-of-kind opportunity to construct an air craft at WBNM is not taken lightly. Students were welcomed into their new aviation lab following the ribbon cutting, and immediately took in this special day.

“This is a very unique opportunity, and I love that this class seems very hands-on,” said Skye Wells, a junior at FFHS. Wells shared that he was most looking forward to being involved in the building process and seeing the finished project. Another junior at FFHS, Martin Liu, said he hopes to join the Air Force, and saw this class as a chance to further his career goals.

“I look at these 23 young men beside me and know there is already a lot of skill and knowledge already there, and I want to tell you that I am here for your success,” said Tynch. “So, I look forward to us getting after it.”

Over the next two school years, DCS and WBNM will share a series of videos on their websites and social media accounts that highlight the students’ progress as they achieve milestones in the construction of the airplane. More information can be found on WBNM’s special webpage at go.nps.gov/takeflight and on the DCS website at daretolearn.org.