Class in session: Wathen Aviation High School

When you were in high school, were you one of those kids who preferred to draw airplanes rather than read a textbook? Although you may have earned detention for that, students at the newly created Wathen Aviation High School in Riverside, Calif., may be encouraged to do it.

The school opened Sept. 6 with an inaugural class of 18 students. Classes are held at Flabob Airport (RIR).

The airport, which has been around since 1925, has a long history of aviation experimentation and vintage restoration. It is the home of EAA Chapter One, the first chapter of the Experimental Aircraft Association established outside of Wisconsin.

In 2000 philanthropist and aviation enthusiast Tom Wathen and the newly created Wathen Foundation bought the airport with the intent of using it as a base for aviation-related educational programs, such as summer camps, programs that teach vocational skills related to aircraft, and hands-on restoration projects.

The high school was the next logical step, notes Arthur Peterson, foundation president.

“We’re off and running,” he noted proudly just three weeks into the school year.

The high school offers three academic paths. One allows students to take courses towards a high school diploma while simultaneously picking up mechanical skills. Another enables a student to complete high school while being trained as an airframe and powerplant mechanic. This enables to the student to earn college credit while still in high school. The third path is geared toward students who plan to attend a four-year university.

“No matter what path they take, our intention is that their education be saturated in aviation,” says Peterson. “For example, when they are studying history, they learn about American history as it relates to Charles Lindbergh and Donald Douglas. At the same time in their literature classes we may have them reading St. Exupery and Ernest Gann.”

One of the highlights of the program, says Peterson, are guest speakers, many of whom have had a significant impact on aviation.

“We had Jay Carter, the man who runs CarterCopter, come in and the kids loved him!” Peterson says. “We are also hoping to have a member of the Tuskegee Airmen visit. The kids really respond to the guests and it enriches the education program when we have a guest speaker who can make science and math come alive.”

The school does not offer flight training, but students can take an online course that prepares them for the written exam for the private pilot certificate.

“But if they want to take flying lessons, it will have to be on their own dime and own time,” he notes.

The curriculum is designed so that students spend Tuesdays through Thursdays in classes at the airport. On Mondays and Fridays they have the option to study at home or do hands-on projects, such as the restoration of an airplane.

“We have one on the field now that is derelict,” he says. “By the end of their four years here it will be returned to airworthy status.”

For more information: 951-683-2309.

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