Sky’s the limit for high-flying YHS students

School launches aviation program as country faces pilot shortage

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Yukon High School freshman Naomi Gonzalez receives guidance from science and aerospace teacher Mica Foster in the new flight simulator. A retired U.S. Navy helicopter pilot, Foster instructs Yukon Public Schools’ new aviation program. (Photo by Conrad Dudderar)

By Conrad Dudderar
Staff Writer

The sky’s the limit for Yukon High School students.

A new flight simulator is allowing future pilots to get a birds-eye view of an aviation career – inside a YHS classroom.

A retired U.S. Navy helicopter pilot, Mica Foster is the school’s science and aerospace teacher. This is the first year YHS has offered an aviation program.

“The pilot shortage is not just in the future, it’s now,” Foster said. “It’s not just a need in Oklahoma, it’s a need nationwide.”

The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association created the aviation program curriculum, designed specifically for high school classes.

“It makes it very easy for high schools to implement,” Foster said. “Yukon was so excited to be one of the first in Oklahoma.”

More students are becoming aware they can earn their pilot’s license even before they get a driver’s license at age 16.

Yukon was awarded an Oklahoma CareerTech grant, in conjunction with the Oklahoma Aeronautics Commission, to purchase two flight simulators.

This new hands-on technology allows students to start building a “love affair” with aviation, according to Foster.

The software on these Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)-approved training devices offers seemingly infinite possibilities.

“They are loaded for any location in the United States,” Foster explained. “Right now, they have eight different aircraft loaded on them … and they are expandable.”

Students can log flight hours on these simulators as they work toward their private pilot’s licenses.

As they are now configured, each simulator costs about $26,000.

“It’s obviously a big investment from the school, and it just shows how much this school cares about taking a step toward the future – and building toward this industry.”

Yukon Public Schools plans to expand its aviation and aerospace curriculum when the district’s college and career center is constructed in coming years on the YHS campus, 1777 S Yukon Parkway.

“It’s set up to be a four-year program,” Foster explained. “So, we’ll continue to add more aviation courses each year.

“We are a little tight on space in here, but we do have more room and a larger footprint planned.”

Yukon High School freshman Parker Schulz watches the displays in the flight simulator, a new hands-on instructional tool in the school’s new aviation program. (Photo by Conrad Dudderar)
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SPACE TO GROW

Members of the inaugural aviation class will be able to receive instruction from Foster through all four years at YHS.

Now freshmen, these 25 students will continue learning more about flying and have the chance to earn their pilot’s license by the time they graduate.

“We had more (students) ‘beating down the door’,” Foster noted. “So, it’s something obviously that can continue to grow with Yukon, especially as we expand the high school and take advantage of our awesome community support.

“We can do some great things and make this a huge program because so many students are excited about it.”

The proposed YHS college and career center, in cooperation with Southwestern Oklahoma State University, will be funded through a $194 million bond issue package approved by Yukon voters in November 2021.

Construction is expected to start during the 2023-24 school year.

The YHS freshmen are taking a general aviation class during the 2022-23 school year. The first-year curriculum covers the history of aviation, the fundamentals of flight and the space race.

Curriculum for 10th, 11th and 12th grades features more details about flying and understanding FAA rules and regulations.

The YHS aviation program will not just focus on piloting aircraft, but on unmanned aerial systems (drones) as well.

This is Foster’s second year teaching in Yukon. Having grown up in Clinton, she previously flew 20 years for the U.S. Navy and an Oklahoma air ambulance company.

“I learned to fly as a kid; everyone in my family is a pilot,” said Foster, who owns an airplane. “I grew up flying.”

The YHS teacher explained why she decided to embark on a new career inside the classroom.

“I will always love the aviation community,” Foster said. “I wanted to share that love with students. I’m also very passionate about science.

“With everything that’s happening in world events right now, we need more students excited by both science and aviation.”

Yukon High School freshman Riley Siebert uses the yoke to steer the aircraft using a flight simulator in the new YHS aviation program. The class is led by retired U.S. Navy helicopter pilot Mica Foster, a YHS science and aerospace teacher. (Photo by Conrad Dudderar)
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