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Don’t ground these teens (VIDEO)

Fifteen students take to the sky in high school aviation class

The view of the lush green trees and grass was a sight to see, especially considering it wasn’t an everyday, regular classroom.

His hands were at 10 and 2 as the sights of Interstate 80, the Illinois River and the white wind mills in Bureau County eventually came into view.

But he wasn’t learning to drive a car like every other high school student. Jonathan Polhemus, 16, was 3,000-4,000 feet up in the air, flying a Cessna 172 aircraft at 100 mph.

He was traveling to Princeton, the town he lives in, as part of a class he attends.

This semester, the Area Career Center at La Salle-Peru Township High School is offering its first aviation class. Fifteen students from Princeton, L-P, Ottawa and DePue are enrolled.

The NewsTribune flew with Polhemus and instructor Joe Zeman of La Salle this past Friday during the course’s first flight.

“They actually get to manipulate the controls and fly the airplane,” said instructor John Thompson of Ladd.

Each student will get two hours of flying time in the pilot seat this semester, and then the students also get observational time in the back of the plane when other students fly.

“With this introductory flight, it’ll give them the opportunity to control the airplane, bank angle, control the airplane pitch angle, control the power levels so they can increase power or decrease power, which relates to climb and descent,” said Thompson. “So it’s trying to give them as much opportunity to facilitate what they pick up in the classroom.”

The students meet for an hour each morning Mondays-Fridays for class at the Illinois Valley Regional Airport in Peru. This past Friday was the first flight of the semester.

Polhemus looked like a pilot with his aviator sunglasses shielding the sun from his eyes and the headset over his ears.

He’s a junior who’s home-schooled. Before this experience, he’d flown a plane twice at Cushing Field in Newark but never was able to fly over his house.

“It’s always a possibility,” he said about becoming a pilot. “It’s a good career choice. There’s a lot of open pilot spots.

“I felt very free,” he said about his experience. “I will say, I was a bit nervous about the controls,” as this plane was a bit different from the one he flew previously.

The idea for the class started when Illinois Valley Regional Airport manager Chuck Studer gave some ideas to L-P’s superintendent Steve Wrobleski who then got Dwayne Mentgen, director of the Area Career Center, involved.

“I cannot emphasize his help enough,” Mentgen said about Studer.

Jane Goetz also was instrumental. She is president of the Illinois Valley Flying Club, and they provide the plane and Zeman’s ability to fly it, Mentgen said.

“Mentioning her role is a tribute to those people from the community who want our kids to have the best opportunities, and put forth an area that they have a passion for,” Mentgen said.

The students will not land or take off the plane, Zeman will be doing those tasks.

The average student pilot will have 20 hours of flying time before they land the airplane alone, Thompson said.

Is it difficult to teach kids how to fly?

“These kids are sponges that absorb information,” Thompson said. “We are very cautious of trying to make sure they have a grasp of what we’re talking about and understanding. I think they probably understand it more than what I give them credit for.”

When the kids are done with this at the end of the semester,

When the kids are done with the course at the end of the semester , Thompson will give them an endorsement on a document that allows them to take a private pilot test. Passing that test is a requirement for a private pilot license.

“Naturally, the best people to get involved are the young kids, and there’s a lot of interest, and a lot them don’t know how to get started and get involved,” said Studer about why he wanted to do this.

Toward the end of the semester, those involved will meet to talk about what went well and what could be adjusted.

“But definitely we want this to be a continuing program so that next year we’re working with the flying club and just making it better,” Mentgen said.

Those interested in donating time or expertise for the future of the L-P ACC aviation class can contact the department at (815) 223-2454.

Ali Braboy can be reached at (815) 220-6931 and countyreporter@newstrib.com. Follow her on Twitter @NT_LaSalle.

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