Taking to the skies; Eaton junior earns pilot license

Published Wednesday, January 3, 2018
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License to Fly

LICENSE TO FLY – Eaton junior Kale Burks earned his private pilot license last month. He is the first person in the district’s aviation academy to receive his license. Submitted photo

As the son of pilots, Kale Burks took to the skies when he was just 4 months old, creating a fascination with flight at a young age.

“I’ve been around it my whole life,” Burks said.

“Up there, there’s no worries – except obviously flying.”

While many 16-year-olds mark the milestone birthday with a spin around the block in the family car, the Eaton High School junior celebrated with his first solo flight in 2016. In December, the now-17-year-old became a flying pioneer as first member of the Northwest ISD’s Aviation and Aeronautics Academy to earn his private pilot license.

“It’s a good feeling,” Burks said about completing the process. “I soloed on my 16th birthday, and you have to meet all the other requirements – cross country flying and all the hours. I finally got all that done and studied for the oral [test]. I got that done and took the test.”

The aviation academy is in its second year. It offers students career pathways as pilots or in aviation maintenance. Students earn high school and college credit along with certification through Tarrant County Community College.

Donny Pharr, the Aviation and Aeronautics Academy facilitator, said the academy is focused on fulfilling Federal Aviation Administration standards and helping students prepare for careers.

“The first two years are an introduction to aviation at the high school with lots of hands-on activities and projects,” Pharr said. “The junior and senior years are through the partnership with TCC where they complete dual-credit courses, learn to fly or do maintenance.

“We’re the only public school in North Texas allowing students to fly for school credit.”

Burks was one of the first students to sign up for the academy when it launched in 2016-17.

“We signed up as fast as we could,” he said, referencing himself and a friend.

Burks received training from his father, Michael, a certified instructor. He said it was a unique experience teaching his son.

“[My wife and I] are both instructors and keep our CFI current, but it’s been well over 20 years ago since we did this professionally as instructors,” Michael Burks said. “I fly for a profession now. It’s different to go back and learn all the new regs again and try to make sure you’re dotting all the I’s and crossing all the T’s to teach your son.

“It’s one of the highlights of my career and life. It’s neat to see him now that he has his rating. He took mom and a buddy up for the first time. He went out on his own and got the plane ready. It feels good.”

Burks had 99 hours of flying time when he earned his license – well over the required amount of 60 for private students. Students in the program at TCC can earn their license with as few as 35.

“Because we did the training before the pilot program was getting started this year, his training was more sporadic,” said his mother, Shari Burks. “The new kids coming in will train three days per week. It’ll get them in and out.”

Burks will now start working on getting his instrument certification, which will allow him to fly in clouds.

“I get my instrument [certification] this semester and move on to commercial by the time I get out of high school,” Burks said.

He said the school’s partnership with TCC will help him accomplish those goals. His eventual goal is to be a commercial airline pilot.

Pharr said the goal of the academy is to get students like Burks into the field that is currently suffering a huge workforce shortage.

The program does come with a significant cost. The estimated flight cost for juniors in the program is $11,666. The costs in the senior year is estimated at $19,000. Pharr does point out the quality instruction through TCC allows students to cut off hours and cut some costs that would be associated with going through another program.

Michael Burks said he tries to encourage students to pursue opportunities in aviation.

“I’ve given a ton of kids rides because our industry is really short of new guys like this coming on. It’s a good opportunity,” he said. “We’re always trying to take new kids up and give them the experience, introduce them to it and encourage them and tell them about the opportunities and careers out there for them.”

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