It’s not every day you see large aircraft moving through your city streets, but the construction of a new training facility for the Des Moines Aviation Technology Academy led to the ground transfer of several helicopters and airplanes.
In operation since 1943, the Des Moines Aviation Technology Academy recently lost its lease at the Des Moines Airport. The program was faced with eliminating the district’s FAA-approved aviation program or building its own hangar. A $3.5 million referendum produced an off-site building with a main hangar, mechanical shop, tool and equipment rooms, four classrooms, and office space.
“There’s been 100% support to keep the program alive,” says Tim Harmer, an aviation technology instructor with the program. “With the new facility, we’ll be able to accommodate up to 120 students or more, because it’s larger. We are also able to store more aircraft and we’ve expanded the pilot side of the program by adding Redbird fully enclosed MCX and MX2 flight simulators.”
The academy has a hangar full of aircraft, including a Bell “Huey” AH-1 Cobra helicopter, an OH58 Jet Ranger helicopter, a Learjet Model 35A, a Mitsubishi MU2 twin-engine turboprop, a Stinson, Cessna 172RG, and a Cessna 310.
The program is divided into four categories: General, airframe, powerplant, and pilot training. The program also is offered to adults and students from other school districts who are interested in aviation.
Harmer, a teacher at the aviation academy for four years, is a certified flight instructor who served as an emergency medical service helicopter and commercial pilot and mechanic. He also served 16 years full time in the Iowa National Guard. He is assisted by up to four other instructors who can be called in to teach aircraft airframe mechanics and ground school.
“We produce federally licensed graduates in a program that starts in 10th grade,” Harmer says. “Being that all the classes here are federal level and for college credit, all the high school students get college credits, as well as federal recognition in order to receive their aircraft mechanics license. Because of that, it also has to be open to adults. Our oldest student is 71. Next year, we will open the program up to ninth graders. It doesn’t cost veterans a dime to come here and some of our students have gone on to join the military.”
Until recently, the program was heavily focused on the mechanical side of operating aircraft. The aircraft are all flyable, but will never actually take off. Harmer says they are kept in flying condition for the students’ learning benefit.
Harmer stressed that it’s important to keep the district’s aviation program going because it gives students who don’t wish to pursue a four-year college degree the chance to prepare for a career in technical work.
In addition to their high school credits, students in the pilot class can earn up to 44 college credits, up to 72 hours in the flight simulator, and potentially save $7,000 in education expenses. That adds up to three-fourths of an associate degree and A&P Mechanics License completed before they graduate high school.
The new 100′ by 96′ hangar features a 58′, 2″ by 19′, 5″ hydraulic door from Schweiss Doors. The door is equipped with electric photo eye sensors, manual wind pins, and warning lights and horns.