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New Aviation Course Has Vista High Students Learning How To Fly Planes, Drones

Current and former JROTC students at Vista High School display ribbons they w...

Credit: Matt Bowler/KPBS

Above: Current and former JROTC students at Vista High School display ribbons they won for the construction of a flight simulator at the San Diego County Fair, June 29, 2018.

Starting this August, Vista High School students will take to the skies as part of a new aviation course. Previously the class was only offered to Vista's Air Force Junior ROTC students, but that program will now be expanded to the entire school.

The course has been in the works for the last year and a half. That's when Vista High came into ownership of a demolished airplane.

"There was an aircraft that was destroyed in an accident up at Fallbrook airport," said Vinny Lostetter who teaches aviation at Vista High. "They said, 'You can have the airplane, but you have to go get it.' We headed out to Fallbrook airport and we dismantled a Cessna 182. Strapped it on a trailer and drove it into the school on the same day," Lostetter said.

Getting the plane was fairly easy, taking it apart was a process.

"We did a lot of trial and error," Lostetter said. "It might be simple things like how to remove a wing, which is fairly simple. Not that many parts to do. Then, when you start getting into the details of removing hydraulic lines that are very deep in a fuselage or deep in a wing, they have to do some more troubleshooting."

The simulator project received donations from community members, local businesses, even the U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force. But it was students who did most of the work actually putting it together.

"It was messy, it was gritty — it was amazing," said Vista High student Reed O’Donoghue, who helped build the flight simulator. "We had to take out lines in the floor, we had to take out instrumentation. There was a whole panel here of instruments."

During next year's aviation class students like O'Donoghue will get a chance to use the flight simulator.

RELATED: Vista High Students Prepare For Pilot’s License

"I’ve flown it three to five times," O'Donoghue said. "It’s so smooth — a little touchy and delicate, but flies like a charm. Flies like you’d see a plane fly."

The students finished the flight simulator just before school ended this year. During next year's course, the simulator will be combined with drones.

"Not everybody wants to be a pilot," Lostetter said. "But this course exposes them to other things. Maybe being a drone operator is what they want. Maybe they want to be a photographer and they want to use this as a tool."

Lostetter said the whole goal of the class is exposing students to something different.

"It’s neat in this program when you see the light bulb go on in somebody’s thought process... There’s other kids out there that don’t even know it yet, but they have something they can explore that may change their life."

Photo credit: Matt Bowler/KPBS

One of the drones that will be used in Vista High's aviation course starting this August, June 29, 2018.

Diana Perez took JROTC at Vista High before she graduated in 2017. She is interested in drones.

"You’re just not flying a drone," she said. You’re also sharing the airspace with planes so you have to be careful with that."

Perez also helped build the flight simulator and is now studying drones at Palomar College. One day she hopes to make money as a drone pilot.

"Agriculture and construction [jobs] as well... Like a lot of people just do video photography which is the normal, but you don’t really see a lot of people pursuing those side-careers related to the drone," Perez said.

Anybody getting paid to fly drones needs a license from the Federal Aviation Administration. During next year's course, Vista High is paying for each student to take the FAA test.

"I hope that in the future I get to hear the great things that they’re doing," Lostetter said. "As fast as things have changed in aviation — I can’t imagine what it’s going to be in the next 10, 20 years when I start hearing students come back and they’re going to tell me about their adventure to Mars or wherever they end up."

In preparation for the course, Vista High purchased a dozen new drones — ranging from inexpensive starters, to sophisticated $5,000 aircraft.

Starting next year Vista students have an opportunity to get training inside of a flight simulator while earning their FAA license for flying drones.


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Matt Hoffman
General Assignment Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksI am a general assignment reporter for KPBS. In addition to covering the latest news and issues that are relevant to the San Diego community, I like to dig deeper to find the voices and perspectives that other media often miss.

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