Taking flight: Traders Point aviation program puts students on course for pilot’s license


Traders Point Christian School recently launched a program to bring aviation training to the high school classroom, giving an opportunity to earn a private pilot’s license.

In 2020, Traders Point – a private K-12 school in Whitestown — partnered with the LIFT Academy, a flight training school, and Republic Airways, a regional airline, to train students at the high school level to become pilots.

The school is redesigning its aviation classroom to make it more interactive and engaging for students with new graphic and environmental designs that give the appearance of looking out onto a runway from a student’s desk. The redesign is expected to be completed by Feb.15.

The classroom-to-cockpit experience based on aerospace and aviation curriculum provided by Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, a nonprofit organization that advocates for general aviation, according to the school.

Traders Point student Tait Kester didn’t aspire to pursue a pilot’s license until learning about the course.

“I came to Traders Point not expecting this program at all, and it came up, and I was like, this is a perfect opportunity, and this is what I want to do,” Kester said.

Students use a flight simulator, take multiple discovery flights with certified flight instructors at LIFT and have a hands-on learning experience at the airport and hangar, learning how operations there work.

“The simulator is a great tool because we get to learn things in class and see the effects on the simulator,” Kester said.

Another TPCS student, Abigail Moore, said many of her friends are jealous she gets to be in the flight program.

“At least once a week, we will use the simulator to learn how to fly and take off,” she said.

According to James Borgaard, admissions and recruitment consultant for LIFT Academy, having a simulator in the classroom is one step that Republic Airways is taking to foster the next generation of pilots.

“The students are seeing the real action and activity going on in and around the hangar and getting in the feel of what it will be like being a LIFT student,” Borgaard said.

The aircraft that LIFT uses students’ first discovery flight is a Diamond aircraft, a plane that combines the most advanced materials and technology to deliver reliable, economical aircraft that are less damaging to the environment, according to Borgaard.

“My favorite part of the discovery flight was when we took the hard 60-degree turns,” said Traders Point student Jackson Krik, who is in the aviation program.

Moore also enjoyed the flight simulator experience.

“Some people thought the turns would make me sick, but I enjoyed it,” Moore said. “It was like a roller coaster.”

Dawn Gilbert, director of constituents relations for Traders Point, said the aviation program at the school is available to all 9th-12th grade students and is included in the cost of tuition.

The program with LIFT Academy begins in the ninth grade Aviation 1 and 2 are semester courses in the first year. The second and third years are an internships with LIFT, where students are focused on flight hours and working to achieve a private pilot’s license. When students graduate from the program, they can apply directly to the LIFT Academy’s expedited program and apply for direct employment with Republic as a commercial pilot.

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Student, Dylan Mongeau of TPCS, taking his first flight. (Photos courtesy of Traders Point School)

TPCS’s aviation instructor, Brad Whitsitt, has been with TPCS for only a few weeks but said teaching aviation to students is rewarding.

“I joined the team at Traders Point because I have a love for aviation and a passion for young people who share that interest,” he said. “There’s nothing greater than seeing the face of a student light up when they sit in the cockpit of a plane for the first time.”

For some students, their first discovery flight is the first time they have flown.

“There were some students that had never been in an aircraft before and had never flown before, so it was an amazing experience for them,” said Hadley Wilson, a former engineering and aviation instructor at TPCS.

Whether a student is interested in becoming a private pilot, a commercial pilot or an airline maintenance technician, the LIFT Academy program at TPCS offers students an accelerated pathway to career in aviation.

“Students choose to enroll in the LIFT Academy program because it’s unlike any other program they’ve experienced, from the in-class simulator to on-site visits at the hangar to exploring the skies for the first time,” Gilbert said.

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Traders Point Christian School students Adrian Winston, Jackson Kirk, Justin Kirk, and Abigail Moore.