Minnetonka schools launch brand new aviation program, give their students wings

The Minnetonka School District is hoping its brand-new aviation program for high schoolers will help a new generation interested in pursuing a career in flying, and help an industry with critical shortages on the horizon. 

From a flight simulator to the actual controls of a Cessna 172, Tonka H.S. sophomore Svea Moberg had an experience she will remember for a long time on Monday.

"It was super cool being up in the sky," said Moberg. "There are so many amazing sights, and the plane was just so cool to see it from the cockpit."

With her NASA jacket and Top Gun aviators, Moberg dreams of a career as a pilot. She joined a group of her classmates at Lakeville’s Airlake Airport to take their aviation studies out of the classroom and into a real-world environment.

"They are super excited to be here," said Minnetonka aviation teacher Scott Shaffer. "This is like the funnest field trip ever."

The west metro school district just launched its program this year in hopes of preparing its students for an industry with worrisome shortages.

Tonka is not the first, but administrators have big ambitions thanks to a partnership with the teams at Aloft and Executive Aviation, a pair of local companies owned by a Minnetonka alum.

The classes, featuring an hour of flying time with an instructor and simulator sessions, are open to all high schoolers.

They filled up fast this fall with more than 250 students registering.

"Flying is kind of a fun thing to do," Shafer said. "I am not surprised that there is interest. I am surprised there is so much interest in doing this."

"It was just so fun to be able to fly and come out here," added sophomore aviation student Skylar Percy. "Not many people get this opportunity to fly. Like, I am flying before I can legally drive, which I just think is so cool."

In addition to the airfield outing, the district is ordering at least three (3) state-of-the-art flight simulators for the program to help students accrue flight training hours toward their personal pilot licenses. Other career tracks for interested students include aircraft mechanics, drone operators, and air traffic controllers. Administrators are hoping the sky is truly the limit for its students.