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Working for their wings: Training program brings aviation lessons to students

GRAND FORKS — Climbing to 2,000 feet above ground in four single-engine planes, a small group of Grand Forks high school students uniformly began to take a steep turn.

Of course, they didn’t actually each fly a Cessna 172. But in a small classroom at Red River High School, students have gotten a taste of what it’s like to fly around the United States.

In this new aviation class, students have been using flight simulators to help practice before their introductory flight at the University of North Dakota, said instructor Leslie Martin.

“Hopefully, when we go fly out of Grand Forks, they’ll be able to use some of the stuff they’ve learned here,” she said.

Supported entirely by the Grand Forks Area Career and Technology Center, the class is the second of its kind in North Dakota and the timing couldn’t be better. As the Grand Forks region gains more notoriety for its involvement with unmanned aerial systems, and UND has the only aviation program of its kind in the state, the class gives students an earlier chance to develop their interest in the field.

The Bismarck Career Academy offers two aviation courses targeting juniors or seniors, and the success they’ve experienced — about 70 students in attendance this year — has encouraged program leaders in Grand Forks.

“It really is an area that, once developed, I think kids will gravitate to,” said Director Eric Ripley. “What better spot to have this class when you have UND, Northland (Community and Technical College) and Grand Forks Air Force Base all around us?”


The class combines fun projects like building miniature hot-air balloons with more technical information, such as learning how to compute weight, balance and performance data.

One recent day, students stood at the board to draw parts of the national airspace and figure out what requirements were needed for student pilots to enter.

“OK, Class Delta. Five hundred below, a thousand above, two thousand horizontal, three miles,” Martin said. “Do I need a transponder?”

“No,” they said.

As students sat in front of the simulators, Martin, an associate UND professor and flight program coordinator, noted their usefulness and accuracy.

Each one is equipped with a landing gear handle, a control column and throttle quadrant, and software installed in the computers gives students a pretty good example of what it’s like to fly in an aircraft, she said.

“It makes it a lot easier when we’re talking systems, they can come over here and see exactly what happens,” she said.

Although the simulator software can mimic the effects of multiple aircraft, she’s mostly used a C-172 because it’s one of the most common aircraft used throughout the nation. Several flight schools and facilities at airports that provide services such as flight training and air service use these planes — for example, Grand Forks Flight Support and Fargo Jet Center both have C-172s, and UND’s main training aircraft is a C-172, she said.

The aircraft they’ve been using in class also has a standard cockpit called a six-pack, which is very close to what they would actually experience in the actual aircraft, she said.

“I have chosen to teach them the basics first and then transition them to a different system,” she said.

All four students said they planned to be in some career related to aviation and that Martin’s class fits their needs.

“You don’t really see this kind of class offered,” said senior Greyson Connolly.

Martin has years of experience as a flight instructor, but she doesn’t want to focus the class only on that. She said she’s excited about the class and what it can offer students.

The biggest challenge is finding hands-on activities that fit her mission of trying to “show them what’s out there,” she said.

Jennifer Johnson

Jennifer Johnson is the K-12 education reporter for The Grand Forks Herald.  Contact her if you have any story ideas or tips and visit 

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