The aviation technology instructor for Bismarck Public Schools is showing students it's possible to get their pilot's wings.

Brad Stangeland teaches Aviation I and II courses at the BPS Career and Technical Education Center, which offers courses to high school students to help them jump-start their careers in areas such as welding, auto collision, health professions and STEM fields.

Last school year, Stangeland met then-Bismarck High School sophomore Nevin Fetzer, who took both of Stangeland's aviation classes. Over the summer, Stangeland trained Fetzer to help him earn his private pilot's license.

Earlier this month, the flight training paid off: Fetzer has become Stangeland's first high school student that’s gone through the Career Academy's aviation program and gotten a private pilot's license.

Fetzer, now a junior, said it was no small feat. The pair logged more than 40 hours of flying together, as well as on-the-ground instruction and solo flying time. Now, Stangeland aims to expand the program and help more students get their pilot's licenses. In fact, he's already got three students lined up.

"Once Nevin got his license, they saw that it actually can happen," said Stangeland, a third-year teacher. "That was my goal: to start making pilots."

Flight training can cost thousands of dollars. To make flight training more accessible, Stangeland said he hopes in the future to find scholarships or other ways to make it a minimal cost to students.

Fetzer has also started the Bismarck Career Academy Flight Club, which offers students the ability to get their sport pilot license for free. He set up a tier of achievement systems in the club, where students can earn rewards.

Stangeland has a RV-12 airplane in the back of his classroom that students are helping to build, and Fetzer says, if they help build it, they have the option to get their sport pilot license, worth about $5,000.

The club is open to all BPS high school students, and even eighth-graders, said Fetzer, who is current president of the club.

From July to early September, Fetzer and Stangeland, his certified flight instructor, flew a Piper Cherokee 140 airplane — an older aircraft they purposefully chose so he could learn how to fly with old-school steam gauges rather than a glass cockpit. They rented the plane from First Class Aviation in Jamestown and stored it at Clear Skies Aviation in Mandan.

Fetzer also studied for a written Federal Aviation Administration test, which he completed at the Fargo Jet Center.

According to the FAA's website, you must be at least 17 years old and have a medical certificate in order to become a private pilot. You must also get at least 70 percent on the written test; Fetzer said he got an 85 percent.

"He did very, very well," Stangeland said. "I'm very impressed with him."

The FAA U.S. Civil Airmen Statistics estimated there were 174,517 private pilots as of December 31, 2016, 3,482 of whom were in the 16 to 19 age range.

"People complain about how there's no pilots out there, well, we've got to start investing in the youth," Strangeland said.

Fetzer said being a certified private pilot will help boost his credibility in the aviation industry. He's also developed a noble purpose for his newly obtained license: helping other students in his flight club.

"Being a private pilot allows me to teach them the concepts that I've learned during my training," said Fetzer, adding that he hopes to one day work for the FAA or National Transportation Service Board.

(Reach Blair Emerson at 701-250-8251 or Blair.Emerson@bismarcktribune.com)

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