In a matter of minutes, students were high in the sky above Greenwood.

Flying in a small, fixed-wing, single-engine Cessna plane piloted by Greg Hill, a rocket and propulsion teacher at the Aeronautical Center of Technology, two groups of middle-school students were able to see central Johnson County from above on Wednesday. Going south, they flew toward Whiteland Community High School and then headed east past Interstate 65 before flying north to return to Indy South Greenwood Airport.

Once they returned to the ground and deplaned, the students had smiles as they greeted their waiting parents. For the students, the short flights marked the end of this year’s Introduction to Aviation Science course, the aeronautical center’s eight-week class for middle school-age students to learn the basics of aviation and aerodynamics through a variety of activities.

Introduction to aviation

This year’s middle school course, which began in mid-January, was smaller than normal. It normally has 15-to-20 students, but this year only had five, said Melissa Vaught, the course’s instructor.

During the course, students constructed and tested various aircraft designs, used aviation tools to plan flights and interacted with aviation professionals.

“We talk a lot about airplanes, but then we also talk about the other line aircraft — the hot air balloons, blimps,” Vaught said. “… Then we also get a lot into aircraft design and why we design things a certain way.”

The aeronautical center has been holding the class for a while. The class was begun by Aeronautical Center of Technology Director Roger Tomey, who recruited Vaught to teach it, she said.

“When I started flying 13 years ago, Roger Tomey was at the airport and started recruiting me because I’m a female, as there aren’t as many females in aviation, and when he found out that I’m also a teacher, he figured I was the perfect candidate,” Vaught said. “He already had a good thing going, and so I just refined it a little bit and we’ve been trying to expand it.”

Students have been very enthusiastic about the class. Because it’s not a class they’re required to take at school, they are there because they want to be there, she said.

Center Grove Middle School Central student Mason Ransdell joined the class because he really enjoys aviation and airplanes. His parents paid for his registration as a Christmas present, he said.

“I just really enjoy airplanes and aviation and learning about the different parts of airplanes,” Ransdell said.

Ransdell, who wants to pursue a career in aviation, has enjoyed meeting new people, building models and taking part in a parachute project, he said.

“We had to design a parachute where it wouldn’t break an egg that was put on a costume. I enjoyed that a lot,” he said.

Other classes offered

The aeronautical center doesn’t just offer a middle-school class, they offer a wide range of classes including a high school program and a ground school class. Roncalli High School Student Angel Hudspeth joined the ground school class because she wants to be a pilot, and first learned of the center as part of a career class.

Hudspeth immediately loved the environment, and how they wanted to make sure she knew everything she needed to know, she said.

“They want me to be a safe pilot and have all that previous background training and everything so that I know what I’m doing if something does go wrong, that I know how to handle it,” Hudspeth said. “Then I just fell in love with the center and the people.”

As she learned about the center, she was told about a scholarship opportunity. However, she needed to have her written exam sent in very quickly. Aeronautical center officials worked with Hudspeth so she could take classes and get the exam turned in on time.

Hudspeth did, and finished the test four weeks into what is supposed to be an 8-to-9-week ground school course, she said.

“I’ve worked so hard for this, along with my schoolwork and taking all my classes at Roncalli,” she said. “It makes me feel accomplished and happy.”

From terminal to center

The aeronautical center was previously located at a terminal at the city airport, which limited them in terms of space and how many classes they could do in the future. Now, the center has its own building located on the far northwestern part of the airport property.

This wasn’t without its challenges though. The building began construction in 2019, but COVID-19 soon put a pause on things, Tomey said.

“We were fortunate enough to have enough volunteers and corporate help to come in here and finish it out,” he said.

Tomey has always thought there should be an education center at the airport for years. While still inside a conference room at the terminal, they offered to bring their science, technology, engineering and mathematics-based programs to school corporations.

But they said no, saying they wanted it at the airport, he said.

“The plan was then, ‘OK, let’s have an education center out here,’ and the mayor was supportive of that thought,” Tomey said.

The opportunity became realized when Mayor Mark Myers told Tomey two builders were willing to build it as they were working on building corporate hangers, he said.

With the larger center, students can learn about and try out aeronautical engineering, 3D printing, drones and rocketry. They will also have an opportunity to build an airplane, Tomey said.

Many benefits

The goal of the introduction class isn’t just to have future pilots but to also get students to think about other technology areas. It also makes them think, Vaught said.

“This year, I asked a lot of questions and forced them to really think through things and develop that, “But why, but why, but why analysis,” she said. “They were very good about it and responding to me and trying.”

Having the students exposed to the world of flight, even if they don’t become a pilot, is always a benefit.

“That’s great if they do go on and do that, but I’m also looking at future engineers, future scientists,” Vaught said. “They might be the person designing the aircraft. They might be the person who designs rockets.”

The future of education is getting students exposure to facilities like the aeronautical center, said Kevin Banich, principal of Roncalli High School. This fall, Roncalli will partner with the center to start an internship program where students go to school for part of the day and then head to the airport to get experience in aviation.

“The future of education is getting our kids exposure in the classroom, and then experience in the field,” Banich said. “That’s the future of education. That’s what the state of Indiana is driving.”

Exact details on the program are still being worked out between Banich, Tomey and the airport, including the number of students. Roncalli is grateful for the opportunity, he said.

“We need our communities, we need our local businesses to commit to these types of programs where we can start with our high school kids and get them experience and exposures out in professions that we have labor shortages in and that are going to fire kids up to go into these fields,” Banich said.

Students offer advice

If students enroll in classes at the center, they are going to have a lot of support behind them.

“Even after you’ve completed (the classes), you’re always going to have that continued support,” Hudspeth said. “If I ever had questions I had five different people I could text because I had five different knowledgeable instructors.”

Hudspeth instructors are even helping her look into buying a plane so she can continue her journey to becoming a pilot, she said.

“You’re not just done with the class and you’re done with the technology center and the people,” she said. “It continues on and you will still have that support.”

Ransdell also offered advice for students interested in taking the middle-school class next year.

“This is a good starting spot, where like introduces you to the basics,” Ransdell said. “If you’re really passionate about it, you should at least consider it.”


To learn more about the Introduction to Aviation Science class or the Aeronautical Center of Technology can go online to

The center can also be reached by phone at 317-851-2545, and by email at [email protected]