Florence 1 students take to the skies in new aviation program

Published: Nov. 19, 2022 at 11:45 AM EST
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FLORENCE, S.C. (WMBF) - Class was in session from new heights in the Pee Dee as students from the Florence School District 1′s Advantage Academy Aviation Program took their first flights on Thursday.

“If you would’ve told me when I was a freshman that I’d be here in high school still on the flight line getting ready to go fly I’d tell you you’re probably crazy,” said Jake Wilson, a senior in the program.

Wilson has his eye set on West Point once he graduates as he dreams to go into aviation.

For the second year in a row, students within the program worked to complete the grounds portion of the aviation program with simulators in the classroom.

The program is open to all students in Florence One Schools, with the goal for them to earn a private pilot’s license while still in high school.

“Obviously, there’s still a lot to accomplish,” said Wilson. “We want to be able to do this on our own, but be able to do this and take the first step in actually flying.”

As students advance in the program, they receive more in-depth training ranging from operations, weather and air traffic control.

This is the only program of its kind in South Carolina and gives students a one-of-a-kind experience.

“That’s what really sets our program apart is that we actually do the flight training,” said Cameron Shepard, Advantage Academy’s business and education coordinator. “So a lot of other schools do the ground school, they pass that test, they provide that training - but we actually make sure that they get in the air and get their 40-plus hours to actually get that private pilots license.”

Shepard said it’s all made possible through grants funded by the FAA due to a global pilot shortage.

Ahmari Samuel, another student in the program, said his heart is gravitating towards aviation and said it’s important to work toward something you’re passionate about.

“When you think of planes, it seems kind of foreign to a lot of people, and it brings a whole new world. So I just think this is a great experience,” he said.

As for the other future potential pilots, they say this experience is once in a lifetime.

“For us to have this opportunity and to be able to compete to get this opportunity and actually get to go fly while the rest of our friends are at school learning regular stuff - it’s pretty cool,” said Wilson.

The six students a part of the program will begin flight training next semester.