Launching Futures: Greenwood Aeronautical Center, Course Opens Doors to Future Careers

Within minutes, the students were in the sky above Greenwood.

Flying in a small fixed-wing, single-engine Cessna plane piloted by Greg Hill, a professor of rocketry and propulsion at the Aeronautical Center of Technology, two groups of middle school students got a bird’s-eye view of central Johnson County on Wednesday. Heading south, they flew toward Whiteland Community High School and then headed east over Interstate 65 before flying north back to Indy South Greenwood Airport.

Once back on the ground and off the plane, the students were all smiles as they greeted their waiting parents. For the students, this year’s Introductory Aviation Science course, an eight-week class at the aeronautical center where middle school-aged students learn the basics of aviation and aerodynamics through a variety of activities, ended with short flights.

Introduction to Aviation

This year’s middle school course, which started in mid-January, was smaller than normal. It usually has 15 to 20 students, but this year only five, said course instructor Melissa Vaught.

During the course, students built and tested various aircraft designs, used flight instruments to plan flights, and interacted with aviation professionals.

“We talk a lot about airplanes, but then we also talk about other line aircraft — hot air balloons, blimps,” Vaught said. “…Then we also go into a lot of aircraft design and why we design things a certain way.”

The aeronautical center has been teaching the class for a while. The course was started by Aeronautical Center of Technology Director Roger Tomey, who hired Vaught to teach it, he said.

“When I started flying 13 years ago, Roger Tomey was at the airport and he started recruiting me because I’m a woman, because there aren’t that many women on the plane, and when he found out I’m also a teacher. He thought I was the perfect candidate,” Vaught said. “He already had a good thing going, so I refined it a little bit and we tried to expand it.”

The students were very enthusiastic about the class. They are there because they want to be there, he said, because it is not a class they have to take.

Center Grove Middle School student Mason Ransdell joined the class because he loves aviation and airplanes. His parents paid for his registration as a Christmas present, he said.

“I really like airplanes and aviation and learning about the different parts of airplanes,” Ransdell said.

Ransdell, who wants to pursue a career in aviation, has enjoyed meeting new people, building models and participating in a parachute project, she said.

“We had to design a parachute that wouldn’t break an egg placed in the costume. I enjoyed it a lot,” he said.

Other classes are offered

The aeronautical center doesn’t just offer an intermediate class, it offers a wide range of classes, including a high school program and a ground school. Roncalli High School student Angel Hudspeth entered ground school because she wanted to be a pilot, and first studied the center as part of a career class.

Hudspeth immediately loved the environment, and they wanted to know that he knew everything he wanted to know, he said.

“They want me to be a safe pilot and have all that previous training and everything so that if something goes wrong I know what I’m doing, I know how to handle it,” Hudspeth said. “Then I fell in love with the center and the people.”

As he got to know the center, he was told about a scholarship opportunity. However, he had to submit the written exam very quickly. Aeronautics center officials worked with Hudspeth to get him to take the classes and take the exam on time.

Hudspeth did, and completed the test in four weeks during an 8- to 9-week ground school course, he said.

“I’ve worked so hard for this, with my school work and taking all my classes at Roncalli,” she said. “It makes me feel validated and happy.”

From the terminal to the center

The aeronautical center was previously located in a terminal at the city’s airport, which limited space and how many classes could be held in the future. The center now has its own building located on the northwest end of the airport property.

This was not without its challenges, however. Construction on the building began in 2019, but COVID-19 soon put things on hold, Tomey said.

“We were fortunate enough to have enough volunteers and corporate support to get in here and finish,” he said.

Tomey has always thought for years that there should be an education center at the airport. Still inside a terminal conference room, they offered to bring science, technology, engineering and math-based programs to school corporations.

But they said no, saying they wanted him at the airport, he said.

“Back then, the plan was, ‘OK, let’s have an education center here,’ and the mayor supported that thought,” Tomey said.

The opportunity materialized when Mayor Mark Myers told Tomey that two builders were working on building corporate hangars ready to be built.

With the larger center, students can learn about and try out aeronautical engineering, 3D printing, drones and rockets. They will also have the opportunity to build an airplane, Tomey said.

Many benefits

The goal of the introductory class is not only to become future pilots, but also to get students thinking about other areas of technology. It also makes them think, Vaught said.

“This year, I asked a lot of questions and forced them to really think about things and develop that: ‘But why, but why, but why the exam,'” he said. “They were very good and tried to answer me.”

Having students approach the world of flight, even if they don’t become pilots, is always a benefit.

“That’s great if they go ahead and do that, but I also look at future engineers, future scientists,” Vaught said. “It can be the person who designs the plane. They can be the person who designs the rockets.’

The future of education is bringing students closer to facilities like the aeronautical center, said Roncalli High School Principal Kevin Banich. This fall, Roncalli will partner with the center to start an internship program where students will attend school for part of the day and then travel to the airport to gain experience in aviation.

“The future of education is to show our children in the classroom, and then experience it in the field,” Banich said. “That is the future of education. That’s what the state of Indiana is pushing for.”

The exact details of the program, including the number of students, are still being worked out between Banich, Tomey and the airport. Roncalli is grateful for the opportunity, he said.

“We need our communities, we need our local businesses to commit to these types of programs where we start with our high school kids to get experience and exposure to occupations that are in short supply and that will put kids out of business to go into those areas,” Banich said.

Students offer advice

If students enroll in classes at the center, they will have a lot of support behind them.

“Even after (the classes) are over, you’ll always have that constant support,” Hudspeth said. “If I ever had a question I could write to five different people because I had five expert teachers.”

Hudspeth’s teachers are helping him buy an airplane so he can continue his journey to become a pilot, he said.

“You’re not just done with the class and you’re done with the technology center and the people,” he said. “That continues and you will still have that support.”

Ransdell also offered advice for students interested in taking middle school classes next year.

“This is a good place to start, where it kind of introduces you to the basics,” Ransdell said. “If you’re really passionate, you should at least consider it.”


To learn more about the Intro to Aviation Science class or the Aeronautical Technology Center, go online

The center can also be reached by phone at 317-851-2545 and by email. [email protected]

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