Reach for the sky: middle-school students ride in airplanes

Middle school students from T.A. Dugger Jr. High took to the skies Tuesday morning while visiting the Elizabethton Municipal Airport, learning about the field of aviation as a career and how the planes they see on a regular basis actually operate.

Flight instructor Dan Mills said he took the students in the airplanes to showcase what it means to be a pilot and explore a possible career field they might not have thought of before.

“This is an opportunity to get experience in flying,” Mills said. “Some of them are flying for the first time today.”

Students went out a couple at a time and climbed into the back seats of some of the smaller planes, and Mills showed what the dashboard looked like and how each part of the plane worked. Each student then got to go on a test flight with one of the instructors for a few minutes each.

“I was feeling a bit scared,” student Kaleb Nelson said. “It was my first time in a plane.”

In spite of that fear, Kaleb boarded the small plane with Mills, and once the plane left the tarmac, he said his fears went away immediately.

“Everything looked beautiful out there,” he said.

Mills said flying is not the only thing he teaches as part of his program at Elizabethton High School.

“I encourage them to be people of integrity,” Mills said. “I talk a lot about making decisions.”

He said children often feel like they are invincible, and as an instructor, he said his job is to make sure his students know how to make smart decisions in a given situation.

Students from the program itself went out earlier that morning as part of their final sessions for the semester.

Junior Heath Owens said it was his cousin who got him interested in aviation many years ago.

“It is a broad field,” Owens said. “It all starts here.”

Though he said his preferred end goal lies with either the Air Force or Marines, he said aviation training can get students into a variety of jobs, including commercial and personal, not just military.

He described the experience of flying a plane as surreal.

“There is nothing like controlling a little plane like this,” he said.

Owens said his favorite part about flying is the freedom it creates.

“It is you, the controls and the air around you,” Owens said.

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