About 700 local students converged Thursday on the Battery Creek High School campus in Beaufort to learn of the school's aviation and engineering offerings.
The highlight: A fly-in by a camouflaged AH-1 Cobra Attack Helicopter nicknamed "Maggie," provided by the Celebrate Freedom Foundation.
Students from Battery Creek, Robert Smalls Middle School, Broad River Elementary School and Joseph S. Shanklin Elementary School were given a tour of the helicopter by retired Army pilots and aircraft technicians. Another AH-1 Cobra, nicknamed "Annie," also was on display.
The Army helicopters were to fly in this year's Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort Air Show, which was canceled because of federal budget cuts.
Students also were given tours of the high school's aviation and engineering facility, which includes a flight simulator, aircraft construction program, and aviation and engineering classrooms.
Members of a Marine Corps Aircraft Rescue Unit, the Burton Fire District and Boeing also spoke to students about the importance of science, technology, engineering and mathematics courses in pursuing careers in aviation, the military, and fire protection and prevention.
"We hope to capture the imaginations and dreams of young elementary- and middle-school students on the opportunities they have in aviation, while at the same time furthering our high school students' interests in the field," said Col. John Snider, a former FA-18 fighter pilot who went to work for the school district after retiring as commander of Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort.
In its second year, the high school's aviation program has provided students the opportunity to earn college credit through a partnership with Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. A separate partnership with the Technical College of the Lowcountry has provided the fuselage of a Cessna 172 for students to tinker with.
The goal: Make students college- and career-ready for positions with employers such as the Air Station, Charleston's new Boeing plant and Gulfstream's Savannah operations.
As well as bolster national security by providing students the skills and competence needed to compete in today's global marketplace and maintain a healthy, advanced U.S. economy.
"National security doesn't stop at the desk of the Secretary of Defense," helicopter pilot Vincent Stella said. "National security is a strong, vibrant nation -- both on the military side of the house and civilian side of the house ... with a strong, healthy economy."
Stella, who flew AH-1 Attack Helicopters in Desert Storm, was "blown away" by Battery Creek's aviation curriculum.
"I wish I had those types of opportunities to sit in the classrooms that they have here," he said. "They're learning the basics of aviation, design, simulation, theories of flight and aerodynamics. You would have seen something like this at the college level 20 years ago, and now you have it at the high school level."
Robert Smalls Middle School eighth-graders Preston Thompson, 13, and Kelli Washington, 13, were equally impressed.
"Most of my family is in the military and I've always wanted to (be a pilot), but never really had the chance to experience it or learn about it," said Thompson, who has already requested to enroll in the school's aviation program next school year. "I think this is going to help me get a kick-start in my career. ... This day has really expanded by horizons on career choices and what I can do (locally)."
Ditto for Washington.
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