AUSTIN (KXAN) - Every Thursday afternoon after the final school bell rings, a group of Mendez Middle School students settle into the pilot's seat. They pick a place they'd like to go and experience it from 2,000 feet above the ground.
Whether they fly over Austin or Mt. Rushmore, the trips are free and they never have to leave the school library.
Phoenix Arising Aviation Academy is bringing the experience of flying to them with the help of desktop flight simulators that consist of a computer screen and a controller.
Private pilot Zay Collier and his wife, Tasha, are guiding them. The couple founded the nonprofit organization that aims to make a difference in low-income areas.
"Even as a young boy I thought, 'Why can't more people experience this?'" said Zay.
Grant money has recently gotten the program off the ground in three Austin schools: Mendez Middle School, Martin Middle School and Eastside Memorial Green Tech High School.
"We really want to show these students no matter where you live, no matter who you are we want to make it possible for you to experience aviation," said Tasha.
There is concern in the aviation world about the declining number of pilots. According to the Alliance for Aviation Across America , many are retiring and the number of students learning how to fly is declining, too.
While local efforts like the after-school program in Austin could certainly help change that, the Colliers say getting more youngsters to eventually earn a pilot's license or go into the aviation industry is not the main drive. The goal is to get kids excited about science, technology, engineering and math.
Once they get comfortable on the desktop simulators, they will eventually move to a more realistic cockpit.
The academy is getting ready to unveil a full-motion simulator housed in a new facility expected to open to the public next month. Actual pilots and pilots-in-training will also be able to get flight hours under their belts at the new facility and sign up to mentor students.
The aviation academy is having a grand opening at its new facility Saturday, March 3 at 10435 Burnet Road, Suite 108. Contact the nonprofit organization's staff on its website for more information.
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