In September 2010, eighty freshmen walked into an old remodeled building at Gerald R. Ford International Airport in Grand Rapids, MI based on nothing but one man’s vision. “Guinea pig” was a very common term that year. West Michigan Aviation Academy was born, and none of us imagined how far we would come as a school in the years that followed.
My junior year came in 2012. We had a brand new building brandishing a beautiful Piper Cub aircraft hanging in our lobby, a room full of simulators, and a fully stocked RC aircraft lab to go along with it. At first, I thought the whole RC thing was a bit silly, and never did I think I would be an instrumental part of it in the coming months. My private pilot ground school instructor, Dean of Aviation George Pavey, urged me to at least learn to fly RC airplanes on our simulators and give the RC club a try, and so after much pain and deliberation, I successfully passed the RC club entrance test by landing the airplane six times in a row on the simulator to become a full member of the RC club. That was where the fun really began for me.
We started flying with Embers, Vapors, and Champs, but as a herd of high school students without much patience, our fleet was quickly turned into a box of scrapped airplanes. From there, I started flying a Yak 55 3D foamy and instantly knew 3D was where I wanted to take my flying. All winter and spring long, I would arrive at school early or stay late after school so I could fly in the gym. Over a few short months I went from thinking it was silly to completely addicted to flying RC.
May of this year, we had a group of four or five students who were proficient enough at flying foamies that we realized we could do something with this. We also added a “pit crew” of students who would help with charging batteries, repairing airplanes, and more during our practices and shows. Throughout the last month of the school year, many different groups from around West Michigan would come in and tour the school, ranging from prospective students to executives at local companies. Whenever this happened, we would rally up the troops, skip class, and go fly in the gym to show off what we were doing to our visitors. From there, the West Michigan Aviation Academy RC Flight Demo Team was born.
I was tasked with being the captain of this new team. We didn’t do much at first, and I was planning on flying at a few halftime shows for our basketball team, and showing off again in the spring for prospective students. Everyone’s attitude changed when we got news last September that we were invited to fly in front of about 1500 people at the Michigan Charter School Conference, showing off our school as the model charter school in Michigan for 2013.
We knew we had to get our acts together and that our flying skills would need to come a long way before we were ready to do this. We practiced as a team before, during and after school for the next month and a half as much as time allowed to prepare. About three weeks before the show, we were presented with a fleet of six brand new MX2 aircraft painted up in our school’s colors and showing off our Aviators logo, entirely handmade right next door to our school by West Michigan Park Flyers. It really took off for us then. The new aircraft were faster and more nimble than anything we had flown before, and I knew they would make a good show an amazing one.
On November 4th, the time had come to load up our van and travel to Detroit for the show the following day. We got about an hour and a half of practice in at the Cobo Center that night before heading back to our hotel to rest and mentally prepare for the show the following day. We got up bright and early Tuesday morning and headed over to Cobo to get ready for our show. Following a performance by a marching band from another charter school, we plugged in our batteries, were introduced, and took off. Hovers, loops, snap rolls, knife edge, inverted flight, harrier rolls and more were all included in our five minute, fully coordinated routine. It was simply incredible how far we had come in a year. That moment made all of us cherish wealth of opportunity we have at West Michigan Aviation Academy, and has made me thirst for more out of my RC hobby.
By: Jack Friesl, West Michigan Aviation Academy Senior