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New airport flight school will include high school students

A flight school coming to the Medford airport will offer high school students the chance to gain private pilot licenses without charge through a collaboration with a local air education nonprofit and two charter schools.

Students at Crater Lake Charter Academy and REACH Charter School will participate in the program with funding support from Southern Oregon Air Academy. The program is operated by Blue Raven Aviation, which is expanding operations to the Rogue Valley from its current location in Redlands, California.

“Southern Oregon Air Academy will be the number one priority, but we will be doing adult instruction for the folks that want to get their license,” said Jim Eshleman, president of Blue Raven. “I’m looking to expand the fight school into a seven-day-per-week operation.”

Instruction is scheduled to start this fall with precautions taken to deal with COVID-19. School curriculum will be available digitally for delivery, said Eshleman. Much of the first semester was designed as classroom work, although he hopes to get students up in the air as part of a class in aviation math and science and to hold one classroom session per week.

Private flight instructors are operating at the airport, but there has been no school located there for a while, said airport Marketing Director Jason Foster. Blue Raven is leasing classroom space on the south end of the airport adjacent to aircraft ramp space, and also is leasing hangar space.

“We have been looking for a flight school. I have been working with SOAA and the schools to build something,” said Foster. SOAA has been successful in securing grants to support the program, he said.

Eshleman has operated Blue Raven in Redlands for three years and operations there will continue. Eshleman is a certified flight instructor and commercial pilot as well as a licensed airframe and powerplant mechanic. He worked for NASA and Lockheed Martin’s aircraft development program for nearly 40 years.

A Cessna 172 and a Piper Archer or Warrior will be relocated to Medford for the school. The Cessna is equipped with advanced technology that allows students to use it to a obtain commercial rating. Eshleman and one other instructor will work with students during the first year. An adult private pilot ground school will be offered in the evening.

Successful students would earn their licenses at the end of the first year. A second year of the high school program will include an instrument ground school, a commercial ground school and securing of an instrument rating that takes about 40 hours of dual flight instruction time. Medford is a great location for offering instrument ratings as students can frequently get into clouds, said Eshleman.

Blue Raven estimates cost of its program in California to obtain a private license at $9,730, including aircraft rental, instruction time, ground schools, materials and exams. About 85 hours of flight time are needed.

CLCA will have 14 slots available for the program, and as of July 9 eight student had applied. Slots are being reserved for juniors and seniors, although sophomores will be accepted if there are openings. The academy is chartered through the Eagle Point School District, and two positions will be set aside for Eagle Point High School students.

CLCA offers its entire curriculum virtually for K-12 students but has a campus where students can come for tutoring and individual instruction. Most students in K-7 participate in group learning situations at the campus.

“We have the flexibility where students can work with Blue Raven at the Medford airport in the middle of the week,” said Stephanie Pogue, executive director with CLCA. The aviation option is the first offering in a new school emphasis to partner with businesses to give students education in a variety of areas.

“They were exactly what we were looking for in building what we want to provide for our vision,” said Pogue. REACH Charter School operates in both Rogue River and Grants Pass.

SOAA is located at the Grants Pass airport and has offered summer camps on aviation for middle school students and after-school and in-school programs on aviation and aerospace in Jackson and Josephine counties. Among SOAA board members are Foster, Cecile Enright with REACH and Jonathan Bildern with CLCA.

“Driven by direct industry feedback and student interest, SOAA established the high school flight instruction program as one of the cornerstone projects two years ago,” said SOAA President Daniella Bivens. “We are now pleased to launch the first year for students in both Jackson and Josephine counties.”

Reach Ashland freelance writer Tony Boom at tboomwriter@gmail.com.

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