Plainwell flight academy now has its own aircraft. (Photo provided)

Plainwell aviation academy pushes to teach piloting, STEM

By: 
Daniel Pepper, Staff Writer

The Plainwell Aviation and STEM Academy is currently getting ready to expand its offerings and start operating in a wide variety of areas.

President Ginger DeVillers said the idea for spinning off from the West Michigan Flight Academy had started because she likes working in Plainwell. Director of Flight Operations Virgil Williams said he remembered it slightly differently.

“I asked Ginger, ‘Have you ever thought of having our own flight school here?’” Williams said.

DeVillers said, “Yes, it was always in the back of my mind.”

Williams is a long-time pilot and retired corporate fleet head who volunteers to run the Plainwell airport for free.

Local businesses, Williams and a donor who wanted to be anonymous supported the effort and helped it purchase its own aircraft, a single-engine Cessna 172.

“We have the airplane and we are ready to look for certified flight instructors,” DeVillers said.

The Duncan Aviation Family Foundation has also offered support.

The flight academy is a nonprofit aimed at bringing education about aviation and Science Technology Engineering and Math to local students.

Plainwell has about 40 percent of its students receiving free and reduced lunch and the program aims to take that into account.

“Flying is expensive and we want to make it available to people who can’t afford it,” Williams said.

DeVillers said, “Even if you don’t get a license, it still teaches you valuable skills, learning the discipline to get it.”

Williams said the idea of a career in flying is currently more practical than it often was.

“Airlines are facing a shortage of pilots for one of the first times in my lifetime,” he said.

DeVillers agreed.

“It’s not just pilots, it’s the whole industry from instructors to air traffic controllers,” she said.

The academy works with Plainwell schools having DeVillers head into sixth and seventh grade classrooms to teach the students about rocketry and beginning aeronautics and then wings and physics.

Middle school teacher Lisa Wininger is the academy’s third officer.

They’re now expanding into eighth grade with advanced rocketry.

The flight program is outside of school and aims to take students up to getting their pilots license, which can’t happen until they are 16 because that’s the required age for the required solo flight.

So far, one former student has gotten a license and two have headed to the United States Air Force Academy.

Students come one time per week for an hour and half.

The flight academy also offers plane rides to Plainwell Middle School students who want one each spring, with about 150 kids usually signed up for the May event.

The students get flown up to take a look at their area from the air, usually taking a look at the US-131 Motorsports Park and Pine Lake before landing back in Plainwell.

Students can also sign up for summer programs with three different camps being offered this summer.

Youth flight camp will spend half the day on flying and half the day on bookwork.

Another this year will be Drone/STEM camp run by Wininger and Miguel de Los Rosario.

There will also be three field trips for students with the flight academy going to Duncan Aviation and the Western Michigan University College of Aviation.

Once the academy gets going, it’ll also teach anyone to fly not just students.

They’ve received support from the Experimental Aircraft Association giving money to help students fly who couldn’t otherwise attend it.

Williams said the academy had to thank the City of Plainwell, who owns the airport, and especially city manager Erik Wilson for being good to work with. The academy also can only work in partnership with Plainwell Community Schools.

Contact Dan Pepper at dpepper@allegannews.com or at (269) 673-5534.

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