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Come fly with me

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WATCH AND LEARN:Aviation program instructor Jeff McLaughlin, middle, watches as students Travis Metzger, left, and Ka’Lee Weaver measure the tension of control cables inside a Piper Cherokee at the Marion Airport on Thursday. The work was part of an inspection of the aircraft.
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BY Kaitlin Gebby - kgebby@chronicle-tribune.com

Students are earning their wings with the Marion High School Aviation Program.

The process of making aviation classes at MHS a reality began three years ago when members of the Marion Community School Board suggested the program. It was made possible with the donation of aircrafts stored at Marion Municipal Airport and Aviation Instructor and Mechanic Jeff McLaughlin.

Now in its inaugural year, the aviation program is run through the Marion Regional Career Center and offered to any student in the county. Students can choose between learning aviation mechanics or flight, spending part of their day at Marion High School in the Career Center before heading to the local airport to get hands on training with aircrafts.

McLaughlin said he looks forward to working with students everyday in the hangar.

“Some of these guys have come here with a blank slate, and no knowledge of aviation of mechanics before coming to me,” McLaughlin said. “That gives me the opportunity to mold and shape them, to sculpt their knowledge to be honest mechanics.”

During the course, students learn to inspect and repair aircraft engines by working on real, functional planes in a hangar and are prepared for a grounds exam, which is one step in obtaining a recreational pilot’s license or entering a pilot program in the future. McLaughlin said one of his goals in the course is to teach mechanical basics, including ethics.

“If you’re going to do a job, you have to know how to do it right and do it honestly no matter where you work. That’s just one thing we teach here,” he said.

Students from Marion, Mississinewa, Eastbrook and as far as Lapel are in the first year of the program.

According to Career Center Director Michael Ripperger, program design is still underway. He said the end result is a four-year curriculum in aviation for students, compared to the two-year program happening now. Ripperger said the only other known aviation classes offered to high school students closeby were in Fort Wayne and Indianapolis.

“Some aviation programs are pretty expensive to operate, but we’re pretty lucky to have the resources available to make something like this in Marion,” Ripperger said.

Cost for the mechanical program is $42 a year, and the flight program is $200 a year, and requires enrollment into the Marion Regional Career Center.