March 2, 2023 - Students are building their own planes at Davenport and Canyon High Schools. That’s right, they are building planes as part of the Career and Technical Education (CTE) Aviation Maintenance program in Comal ISD.
“We’ve been experimenting with electronics since the beginning of the program,” says Ryan Johnson, an 11th-grade student at DHS who has been in the program for almost three years. “We’ve moved from simpler circuits to more intricate circuits to eventually learning about parts in the planes that we build as well as real planes. We’ve been able to use that knowledge to develop planes and build them to our own specifications.”
With approximately 60 students in the aviation program between DHS and CHS, teacher Ernesto Pliego travels to both campuses to teach and share his own personal experience as an aircraft mechanic who built planes for 15 years before becoming a CTE teacher.
Pliego teaches three courses at each campus including Introduction to Aircraft Technology, Occupational Safety and Environmental Science with a focus on the aviation industry and Aircraft Airframe Technology.
“I try to get them to learn from scratch,” Pliego says. “They cut; they measure; and they learn about engines and how systems work when it comes to airplanes.”
He also encourages them, explaining that building includes a lot of trial and error. As students build their cardboard planes, he guides them, and as they set out to fly them, he helps them see what could be done differently.
In the classroom, students have the opportunity to learn what it’s like to fly a plane as well with a flight simulator. One student demonstrated by sitting in the cockpit and setting a course to fly from Dallas’ DFW airport to Dallas’ Lovefield airport.
Two of Pliego’s students have been accepted to the Aim High Flight Academy which was created by the Air Force Recruiting Service as a science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)-based aviation-focused, motivation and mentorship program. Johnson will attend the three-week program this summer, and Amy Schoenenberger, a 12th-grade student at DHS, completed the program last summer, earning 15 hours towards her pilot’s license. Read more about her story here.
Besides Schoenenberger, who plans to become a pilot and ultimately an astronaut, and Johnson, who is looking to earn an appointment to the Air Force Academy next year, Isabella Viccellio, who was never interested in being a pilot before taking Pliego’s class, now wants to join the Air Force.
“Mr. Pliego makes the class so great,” says Viccellio, who completed an internship at Bario Aviation at Kelly last summer. “He has taught us that there are many career options available in aviation.”
Currently, Pliego and his class have plans to build a small ultralight aircraft, made of metal. Students are learning how to read the plans, how to measure, how to use specific tools, how to make some of the parts, and how to build the plane.
“I really enjoy these kids,” Pliego says. “They take the challenges and are very responsive.”
As with other CTE programs at Comal ISD, the aviation maintenance program is always looking for community businesses to partner with in order to give students the real-world experience they need. Businesses interested in a partnership, should contact Renee Martinez, director of CTE and career readiness at Comal ISD, at [email protected].
-Students Amy Schoenenberger and Ryan Johnson demonstrate how students enrolled in aviation classes at Davenport High School use the flight simulator.
-Davenport High School students enrolled in the aviation maintenance CTE program at Davenport High School are pictured here with a few of the cardboard planes they have built from scratch along with the wave tunnel which they built to test the properties of air flow. Picture from left is Rowan Smith, Ryan Johnson, Amy Schoenenberger, David DeArment, Isabella Viccellio, Alex Sayfi, Treyton Kallies and teacher Ernesto Pliego.