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Soaring success | High school students secure pilot's license before graduation

At Cumberland County High School, students have the opportunity to get their pilot's license before even graduating. The program's success is thanks to a grant.

CUMBERLAND COUNTY, Tenn. — The Cumberland County school system is producing plenty of new pilots. Students have the opportunity to let their dreams take flight for free.

Through the aviation program at Cumberland County High School and Stone Memorial High School, students are able to obtain their private pilot's license before graduation.

The school system has a long history of offering the aviation class to students. According to instructor Jon Hall, it's the only program of its kind in Tennessee.

It's thanks largely to an "Innovative High School Grant" from the state, and to the CTE director, Scott Maddox, for having the idea to apply for it.

"Dr. Maddox thought it would be a great idea with the pilot shortage that we're in right now if we could write this grant," Hall said.

The grant was almost a million dollars. Hall said close to $500,000 has been invested into new equipment, flight simulators, drones and teaching aids between the two high schools.

The other half of the grant is for flight instruction.

"Between the two schools, about 25 students are actively taking flying lessons and working on their private pilot's license," Hall said. "We are footing the bill for all of that. We have paid for their physicals, for the written exam, for their, their equipment, everything."

About $15,000 is invested into each student who has completed their private pilot's license.

One of those students is Cumberland County High School senior BreOnna Inman.

“It means so much," Inman said. “I got my private pilot's license after about five months of training."

Now a star aviation student, she never dreamed being a pilot would be her career path. She originally had her heart set on being an architect, before she landed in the aviation class by a sort-of accident.

"Last year, I was in a bunch of classes with an ex of mine, and at the start of the year, whenever we had broken up, I just need out of all those classes," Inman said. "This was the only class they could stick me in. I had never even thought about planes, I thought I'd never fly one to be honest."

Now, she knows the path she's on is the right one. She plans to graduate with her commercial pilot's license and go straight into the workforce after that.

“It's not always that students don't want to do something, it's that they don't have the opportunity to," Inman said. "It would be nice if everyone had this type of opportunity because I definitely wouldn't have done it if it wasn't for the school's help.”

Other students in the program have varying dreams in the world of aviation, but know the sky is the limit and that they will probably land a job.

"Job demand is crazy," Hall said. "Airlines are hiring pilots as fast as they can get their time in, and you know, mechanics are always in short supply.”

CCHS senior and fellow licensed pilot Logan Lanzi said he's even gotten the opportunity to fly a drone and record the school's homecoming parade from a bird's eye view.

He's grateful for every experience.

"If you like a certain field in life, and you think you have an opportunity to go for it, then go for it," Lanzi said.

Hall is always happy to watch each student's progress. It's rewarding for him, and he admits, it's only natural to teach this class where the school's mascot is "The Jets." 

Hall got his own pilot's license alongside his son years ago. His son then went on to the aerospace program at Middle Tennessee State University. He said it's a great pipeline for kids wanting to continue the path into college.

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