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First flight: Florence One Schools' aviation program takes off

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First Flight

Dominic Dawson, front, and Abigail Buddenborg, rear, were the first two students to take off on flights in the Florence Advantage Academy’s aviation program.

FLORENCE, S.C. – Several Florence One Schools students took to the sky Tuesday afternoon at the Florence Regional Airport.

Students enrolled in an aviation class at the Florence Advantage Academy (the Florence Career Center has been renamed) got to view the city from the air as two local pilots took the students for a short flight from the airport.

West Florence students Dominic Dawson and Abigail Buddenborg were the first two students to take off on one of the flights.

“It was kind of like a roller coaster — I’m not going to lie,” Dawson said after he came back from his flight. “It was better because you can control it. It was the funnest thing ever.”

He said the flight felt most like a roller coaster when the pilot put the plane’s flaps down. Dawson added that takeoffs and landings are the most exhilarating part.

Buddenborg said the flight was like a dream come true. She said her favorite part was taking off.

Before she flew, she said that she wanted to become a pilot in the military. She said she wanted to go to college and then become a commissioned officer. After she came back, she said she definitely wanted to become a pilot now.

Wilson senior Jaden Ocampo was another student waiting to fly Tuesday. He said he was inspired to take the class because his family has a lengthy history in the Air Force.

Advantage Academy business educator coordinator Cameron Shepard said all students in the aviation program at Advantage Academy who want to fly were given the opportunity at the event.

“Today’s event is to give students the opportunity to experience an actual flight for the first time, and the top five students will be chosen to complete flight training next semester,” he said in a media advisory. “By offering the flight training portion Florence 1 Schools is doing what pretty much no one else in public education would attempt.”

The district recently received a $339,000 grant from the Federal Aviation Administration to provide funding to allow the students in the program to complete the required 40 hours of training to become licensed private pilots.

Advantage Academy Director Sarah “Kitty” Carpenter said the grant will pay Carolina Flight Academy for the students’ training. She said next year the program would expand to 10 students.

“This course allows students the opportunity to turn a dream of an aviation career into a reality,” Shepard said. “It also gives students an advantage that the Federal Aviation Administration is looking for in filling the needs of the aviation workforce.”

There have been several news stories reporting on a shortage of pilots. The traditional training ground for commercial pilots, the military, hasn’t been getting as many people lately, so less pilots are produced. Also, becoming a pilot takes time and money which many people do not have the right combination of.

Carpenter said she believes that the Aviation Program is going to have a major impact on the students’ decision to choose a career in the field of aviation.

“Every now and then an opportunity comes along that changes the pathway in which a student is headed. I wholeheartedly believe that the aviation program is one of those opportunities,” Carpenter said in the media advisory.

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