FRANKFORD'S AVIATION ACADEMY &
INTRODUCING DRONE CERTIFICATION
A Chat with Joshua Bergerson, Aviation and Physical Science Teacher
F-A.COM: Describe Frankford’s Aeronautical Program?
Joshua: The aviation program at Frankford is a series of science elective courses that students can take, beginning in their 10th-grade year, to learn about aviation and aerospace and take the first steps towards a career in aviation. The thing that sets our program apart from similar classes offered in the area is that students have the opportunity to earn their Commercial Drone Pilot License and Private Pilot License by the time they graduate.
F-A.COM: Is this your second year?
Joshua: This is my 3rd year at Frankford and 3rd year teaching the Aeronautical Program and my 12th year teaching high school science.
F-A.COM: In your email, you said the following: We are also working on preparing students to earn their private pilot license. Could you tell us about that?
Joshua: The private pilot license is the first pilot’s license that you can earn and with our partnership with TailWinds Flight School out of Northeast Airport our students have the opportunity to earn this license before they graduate.
They need to pass a written exam given by the FAA, log at least 40 hours of flight time, and pass a check-ride in the plane, similar to a driving test to earn your driver’s license. It is a very intensive process but we are here to support the students who are driven enough to complete it.
F-A.COM: What were your challenges before the Pandemic?
Joshua: Some of the biggest challenges before the pandemic were organizing the program in terms of what would be an effective and efficient path for students, so that they could be successful without being overwhelmed.
Our requirements STEM from the FAA regulations are pretty specific and technical. Since the program was only in its second year when the pandemic hit, we were just starting to increase interest and momentum for getting students into the program. But, many students felt it would be too challenging for them, which is something we are working to change by trying to present it in more relatable ways when recruiting 8th or 9th graders.
F-A.COM: How has the Pandemic affected your program?
The pandemic put quite a wrench in our plans, since our students were unable to fly or work with our drones for the entire 2020-21 school year. It led to a bit of a restart, but so far this year we are back on track with many of our students.
F-A.COM: What class will be the first graduating class of the aeronautical program?
Joshua: The first graduating class within the aeronautical program was last year’s class, 2021. However, their entire senior year was virtual so many of the students were unable to fulfill the requirements of the program.
F-A.COM: What will they be equipped with?
Joshua: The students who were in the program the entire time have a deeper knowledge of the aviation industry and potential career opportunities. Two of our students in the initial cohort were able to start the process of earning their private pilot license and logged in some flight hours.
This way, if they want to continue down that path they will have a head start.
F-A.COM: How was the program designed? Describe a typical day.
Joshua: As long as they start the program in 10th grade, the program is currently designed to guide students through the steps needed to earn their commercial drone license and private pilot license by the time they graduate high school.
However, we do have some students who join in 11th grade, and if they are motivated enough can earn their private pilot’s license, and at a minimum will be able to earn their commercial drone license.
Students take one aviation class per year and the first year is spent predominately on learning the fundamentals of flight and aircraft.
The second year, or 11th grade, is when students first get the chance to start getting flight hours by spending time at Northeast Airport and working with our instructor, Mr. Howard Cooper.
Before the pandemic, the typical structure for this year was that once or twice per week students would leave school in the afternoon, similar to a work-study, and work with Mr. Cooper for a block of time in the aircraft.
Seniors in the program work on finishing up any requirements they are missing towards their licenses, take their exams, and focus on a specific area of aviation as a senior project.
The new area of focus this year, in addition to drone and small aircraft flight, is virtual reality. We have four VR headsets that students can use to create 3D, interactive models of aircraft and immersive 360-degree videos of drone or aircraft flights to share their experiences with other students.
F-A.COM: Are there other schools in the Phila. School District offering this program?
Joshua: There are some other schools that offer aviation classes that teach students some of the basics and might have some drone components. But we are the only school that offers students the option to earn their private pilot license and commercial drone license.
F-A.COM: Tell us about the Drone team/program? What does that entail? Have you had any competitions? If so, what were they like?
Joshua: This is the first school year that we have had access to drones that students can utilize for competitions, so we haven’t been actively involved in things outside our classroom yet. However, our plans for this year are to work with current aviation students to earn their commercial drone licenses and practice their flying and photography skills.
We have multiple students who are also enrolled in some of our photography/videography classes and we want to utilize the drones to capture footage of many of our events at the school.
F-A.COM: Will the students get certified? What does certification entail? What did you have to do to get your certification?
Joshua: The goal is for all students in the program to earn their commercial drone licenses. The basic requirements are that they need to pass the FAA part 107 small UAS exam and a background check.
The coursework students take during the day helps prepare them for this exam. Once they have this, they are legally allowed to be compensated for flying a drone, which opens up many different career opportunities related to flying drones.
F-A.COM: Will you work with the JROTC? If so, in what way?
Joshua: We have students who are involved in both the aviation program and JROTC but haven’t had any specific collaborations yet. However, we do hope to work with them in the future to encourage more students to pursue a drone hobby, and once we have a large enough group who are interested and capable we may start participating in local competitions.
F-A.COM: Who will you compete with? What other city schools have drone teams/ programs?
Joshua: At this time we aren’t set up to compete in drone competitions, but it is something we are looking into for this school year.
There are other area schools outside the city that have drone teams, but I’m not familiar with any other public high schools that compete.
F-A.COM: How did you get involved in aeronautics and drones? Do you teach classes outside aeronautics?
Joshua: Prior to coming to Frankford, I taught chemistry and physics at a STEM high school where the focus was on problem-solving and real-world application of what they learned in school.
Frankford's aviation program is a great way to show students careers that use a lot of the knowledge they may not find immediately relevant or important to them.
By having a program where students can earn real-world experience and credentials that can open doors for their future, we're hoping to motivate more of them to pursue a career in aviation or any STEM field.
In addition to the aviation class, I also teach earth science to 10th-12th grade students.
F-A.COM: What are your future hopes for the aeronautical and drone programs?
Joshua: The pandemic really threw off the trajectory of our program, so we are hoping to restart a few of the more exciting aspects of it this year, i.e., the things we couldn’t do virtually.
Ideally, more students will become involved in the program each year and we will have a consistent amount of students working towards their private pilot license. We are also hoping to partner with post-secondary institutions to provide pathways for our students who want to pursue a career as a pilot to further their flight training--and provide a path and support to accomplish their goals.
On the drone side of things, we hope to provide this career opportunity to students who may not be able or interested in the airplane flight pathway.
We want our drone students to become certified by the end of their 11th-grade year so they can be involved with a variety of drone-based projects their senior year, potentially even internships or partnerships with local businesses.