In city known for engine manufacturing, Middletown High aerospace class takes flight – Middletown Press

Eighth-graders at Woodrow Wilson Middle School checked out a Robinson R44 helicopter as a precursor to the launch of Middletown High School’s Aerospace & Advanced Manufacturing program. Program instructor Paul Pelletier, aerospace and manufacturing instructor, is shown in this December 2019 photo.
Middletown aerospace students study Federal Aviation Regulations at the high school.
As part of Middletown High School’s Aerospace & Manufacturing Center courses, students learn hands-on skills, such as disassembling old aircraft, converting them to simulators to prepare them for a booming job market in multiple industries, where they can get high-paying entry-level jobs.
In this archive photograph, a Middletown High School aerospace student shows state Sen. Matthew Lesser the airplane the class is building.
MIDDLETOWN — The high school Aerospace and Manufacturing Center is preparing students for their careers in a city known as a worldwide leader in engine manufacturing.
“We are Middletown. We are aerospace,” course co-teacher Paul Pelletier said in a recent presentation to the Board of Education.
“When you see, in urban/suburban communities, students struggling after they graduate, there’s a disconnect there,” Pelletier said, adding that connections are the key to success. “We feel this program is really the center of the bull’s-eye.”
Stephen Socolosky, a licensed pilot and president of the Hartford chapter of the Experimental Aircraft Association, co-teaches the classes.
There are 120 youth enrolled in the program — about 10 percent of the student body.
The program is devoted to teaching teens hands-on skills that will equip them with the training and certification necessary to join a growing job market.
Funding came from a portion of last year’s $1.08 million Alliance Grant.
Student “perseverance” and “achievement” were among the goals at the innovation center, Pelletier said. “That’s a great feeling.”
Once they obtain their certification, they can operate airplanes in their future careers.
“They’ll be able to put their virtual reality goggles on, sit in a real cockpit and manipulate the controls, and, when they look out the window, it’s going to look as if they’re at 3,000 feet,” Pelletier said.
The presentation showed a photo of two high school students hovering a drone similar to those used by Command Aviation, which has partnered with the program, Pelletier said.
In all, 42 students are enrolled in drone courses.
Command has a K-MAX helicopter, which has been used to conduct firefighting on the west coast, Pelletier said. “Also, students can learn about weight and balance: the limitations of their aircraft.”
Students are now studying Federal Aviation Administration regulations using virtual reality goggles to earn their drone certificate through the program, which was developed for MHS by Dauntless Software.
“Drones are the next big thing,” Pelletier said.
“People have said, ‘do you think that will take hold?’ The interesting thing is the kids really enjoy it, and we know when you have kids involved, it’s much easier for them to grasp the information,” Pelletier told BOE members.
Some are participating in the Experimental Aircraft Association “Young Eagles” program, which exposes students to the world of aviation.
He hopes eventually to offer the pilot efficiency program developed for fire and police personnel. Students heavily involved in the MHS program will assist with adult programs.
In October, several youth had the opportunity to be aboard helicopter flights, and, over the summer, they participated in summer workshops at area airports, Pelletier added.
Since last year, youth have been working on building a small aircraft from individual parts. Middletown Public Schools Director of Innovation & Grants Natalie Forbes was instrumental in getting a classroom door enlarged so the plane could fit inside, Pelletier said.
The program is seeking participation from area companies that offer internships for students to get the additional skills needed in the workforce. Those interested can call the high school at 860-704-4500.
Cassandra Day is an award-winning multimedia journalist and resident of the North End of Middletown who has been reporting nearly every facet of the city for over two decades.

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