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home : education : schools August 17, 2017

4/18/2017 1:28:00 PM
Sisters student takes wing

Every pilot remembers the first time they took to the skies without the security of an instructor sitting beside them: The solo.

"It's just me up here now."

That's what 18-year-old Sam Lewis said to himself as he maneuvered the Outlaw Aviation Cessna 172 through his first solo flight last week. It was a day he will always remember.

Lewis, a senior at Sisters High School, is the latest student to solo out of the Flight Science program offered at Sisters High School this year. The course is an elective sequence running the entire year, integrating the study of aerodynamics, physics, chemistry, navigation, and meteorology to prepare students to pass the rigorous FAA private pilot written exam. Lewis took the Flight Science course last year during his junior year, and then passed the FAA written exam.

In addition to the academic study of the ground school, students pursuing their private pilot license must train in an actual aircraft with a Certificated Flight Instructor (CFI). Sam Monte, the flight instructor for Outlaw Aviation at the Sisters Airport, is a graduate of the COCC Aviation Department.

"Sam is an excellent student, and has a real passion for aviation. He's an easy student to teach, and just loves to fly," says Monte.

The tradition of the instructor cutting the shirt tails of the student after their first solo originates from the days when pilots were trained in tandem aircraft, where the student sat in front of the instructor. Before enclosed cockpits and headsets allowed them to talk to each other, the only way an instructor could get the attention of the student from behind was to tug on their shirt tail. Once the student demonstrated he no longer needed the assistance of an instructor by soloing, the shirt tail was cut off.

In order to earn a private pilot license, a student must complete several steps: they must pass a medical exam from an FAA-certified physician, they must pass the FAA written exam and an oral exam, and they must pass a check flight with an FAA examiner. Lewis plans to take his oral exam and check flight this summer.

"My goal is to earn my private certificate before I leave for college in fall," said Lewis.

Lewis has been accepted and is committed to attending the Colorado School of Mines to study mechanical engineering in fall.

"Mines is ranked the number one engineering school in the country, and admission is extremely competitive. I think having flight training on my résumé helped me get into Mines. It demonstrates I have perseverance to achieve long-term goals, and that's what the top colleges are looking for," he said.

Currently in its fourth year, the Flight Science class has become one of the most popular courses at SHS. With two full classes this year, the goal of the Sisters High School Flight Science program is to provide an integrated aviation offering that also enables students to reach a real-world goal of earning their private pilot license while in high school. Mastering this material requires both academic study and actual flight experience.

While the academic ground school curriculum is free to students at SHS, flight instruction costs are not covered by the school. Lewis and other Flight Science students have applied for scholarships and grants to help pay for the cost of flight instruction.

Outlaw Aviation was started three years ago by Benny and Julie Benson, to assist SHS students in paying for their flight training. The Bensons, who also own the Sisters Airport, purchased the Cessna 172 as a trainer aircraft, and offer the students a discounted rate for flight time. In addition, the Bensons provide a matching scholarship fund. For all funds a student brings to their flight training, whether it's from other scholarships such as The Roundhouse Foundation or AOPA, or from family contributions, the Bensons match those funds.

Lewis has been awarded several scholarships through The Roundhouse Foundation, and those funds were matched by the Bensons through a credit with Outlaw Aviation.

"Their generosity is incredible," said Robin Lewis Kane, Sam's mother. "Sam has learned to fly at virtually no expense to us!"

Lewis and his family moved to Sisters two years ago from California.

"Sam has had an interest in flying from a young age, so when we learned about the flight program here in Sisters, that the students actually get to fly, the decision to move here was an easy one," said Robin. "There are other aviation programs at the high school level, but they don't have a way for students to get flight time in a real airplane. We are lucky Sam was able to participate in this unique opportunity."

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