Students soar with AeroLab and the Boys and Girls Club

Courier photo by John Waters Local pilot Jed Ellithorpe with his 2018 Carbon Cub 11, a 900-pound airplane that is designed to land on short dirt runways and for backcountry use.

ALAMOSA — The Boys and Girls Club of the San Luis Valley and the Colorado Springs-based non-profit Falcon AeroLab spent a day with 25 students from local high schools at the San Luis Valley Airport— both on the ground and in the air, for a fun-filled educational day on Friday, Feb. 16.

Aaron Miltenberger from the boys and girls club said, "I think this is really exciting to bring kids from five different school districts, including homeschoolers together for a day with these fighter pilots, retired Air Force, a Blue Angel [U.S. Navy] colonel, taking kids up and shifting their perspective. This is about having young people change their perspective as they get 10,000 feet above the Valley floor and really get to see this place and the opportunities and possibilities. This is one of a series of work-based learning exposure workshops that people from the San Luis Valley could get experience with that yield high-paying career opportunities.

"For us, [Boys and Girls Club] these kind of opportunities, work-based learning initiatives feeds the core of our work, which is about hope and learning for kids in the San Luis Valley. Our hope is with these experiences, young people can go anywhere they want, and this is where they want to be. We have to build that next future and stop losing them to other opportunities in the Front Range."

Mark Colman, proprietor of Depot Avionics at the SLV Regional Airport was on the tarmac early in the day assisting and said, "AeroLab is here trying to get kids interested in STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math]  and bring it into the Valley and get kids interested and the way they do it is through aviation and take them flying."

AeroLab innovates education by offering individualized, hands-on, STEM/Aerospace opportunities for middle school and high school students. According to Falcon Aerolab founder and CEO Mark Hyatt, "Our goal and mission is to be the best STEM/Aerospace program for our K-12 education... Colorado is the number one state per capita for these great STEM/ Aerospace jobs. We're here to prepare Colorado kids for these great jobs. We have excellent speakers, including astronauts, pilots, mechanics, meteorologists, and physicians, all who come in to connect with these students."

Hyatt served as a fighter pilot squadron commander in the Air Force, advisor to the Secretary of Defense, and the past two White House Administrations on school choice, safety, social climate, and culture issues. He's also served as Vice Commandant at the USAF Academy. After his career in the Air Force, he became a school superintendent.

"I love young people, I feel that is my purpose in life, is to inspire, train, educate, I call it 'college career and community ready,' I've got to help young people."

One of the pilots on hand was Doug Dal Sogilo from Colorado Springs who said, "We're down here to give these kids an experience that will hopefully get them interested in aviation. I'm about to take this student Donnie who I'm going to fly with is stoked and ready to go up and fly and give him some stick time."

Stick time is a reference to someone who is at the control of the aircraft and allows them to pilot it. Dal Sogilo had his RV 7 aircraft that he built himself; a six-year project he said was an “endeavor and is a wonderful aircraft to fly."

Sara Hurley with AeroLab said, "A big thread through our program is character and leadership that is firmly rooted in STEM and building character, pushing limits. We want to have full rounded citizens that come out of our programs. The type of person you want to be your neighbor. We have four-star generals who come in and talk to our students about how to be a leader. I think that is really impactful."

Hurley has a 19-year-old daughter who upon completing the AeroLab program, accepted a position as an instructor pilot in Pueblo at $100,000 a year. Drone pilots right out of high school are being offered $40,000 to $50,000 a year.

Hyatt said he is hopeful he can bring the full AeroLab program to the San Luis Valley.