Aviation Summer Academy Inspires Futures in Aviation as Students Take to The Sky

Aviation Summer Academy Inspires Futures in Aviation as Students Take to The Sky
June 26, 2024 Kelle Sutton
A man and a young boy sitting in an airplane at KCPS

Saint Louis University’s (SLU) Oliver L. Parks Department of Aviation hosted its annual Aviation Summer Academy the week of June 10, connecting students to the world of aviation and the exciting careers within it. More than 20 high school seniors from eight states gathered at SLU’s hangar at St. Louis Downtown Airport to explore the aviation industry both in and out of the classroom. They learned flight basics using high-tech simulators, heard from guest speakers about flight careers, and stepped into the cockpit of different aircraft to gain hands-on experience, while also experiencing the thrill of flight.

The program features a variety of workshops and training through which students are taught aviation operation basics using innovative technology. Campers gain extensive knowledge about flight science, aviation management, aerial navigation, aircraft design, unmanned aerial vehicles and air traffic control and become familiar with the aviation industry and the careers if offers. Flight simulators introduce the students to flying concepts, but it is the opportunity to take to the skies themselves that makes this camp a life-changing experience.

Cason Brinkely is a 15-year-old student from Clevland Central High School in Clevland, Mississippi. On June 10, he took his turn in the cockpit on a 20-minute flight in a Diamond DA/20 aircraft high above downtown St. Louis.

“I really enjoyed my flight,” said Cason. “It was my first time flying with the joystick, so it was all new to me. The academy has allowed me to learn and experience so many new things.”

Guided by a certified SLU instructor, each student had the opportunity to take off from St. Louis Downtown Airport and fly over the Mississippi River, where they were presented with a stunning view of St. Louis and the Gateway Arch. They also got to navigate the flight training aircraft as instructed by their guide.

Several current SLU students help with the academy activities each year, offering experience and advice to the aspiring aviators. Senior Tyler DeBettignies is a flight science major at SLU who spoke on the benefit of early flight experience. “There’s a lot of people that come here who have never flown before, and it is good for them to try it out,” he said. “I had a flight before I decided to come here, and that was why I decided to choose aviation.”

Over the course of the week, academy attendees learned key aviation skills, such as how to preflight an aircraft, read and create aerial maps, use several flight instruments and log hours, and learn basic aerodynamics. They also participated in tours at Spirit of Louis Airport and at St. Louis Lambert International Airport on the Missouri side of the Mississippi River, seeing behind-the-scenes operations, including a visit to the Air Traffic Control Tower. Another highlight of the week included a display of U.S. Navy aircraft at St. Louis Downtown Airport and the opportunity to chat with Navy Pilots about their career paths.

The skills learned are important to any aviator, but it is the experience of the camp itself that Assistant Chief Flight Instructor Ryan Boyer feels matters most. Boyer has been with SLU’s Oliver L. Parks Department of Aviation Science since graduating from it in 2009, but he has been flying since he was 13 years old.

“Some students have previous aviation experience but most of them have never been in the cockpit,” Boyer said. “We expose them to what it’s like if they were to be pursuing flight training in the future. It’s a great career to get into, especially nowadays where we have so many opportunities present in the industry.”

The aviation industry currently is rich with opportunities for employment and those opportunities are only going to expand as a continuing shortage of workers becomes more prominent with the expected increase in the number of retirements. Those trends make programs like SLU’s academy even more important.

St. Louis Downtown Airport Director Sandra Shore was pleased to see students at the SLU hangar to kick things off this year.


“This immersive camp is an outstanding opportunity for students to really get to know the aviation industry,” said Shore. “With the continuing and growing demand for workers across all aspects of the industry, there’s never been a better time to inspire interest in what a future in aviation could mean for them.”.

Campers came from Illinois, Missouri, Mississippi, California, Kansas, Ohio, Tennessee and Texas. Student Nathan Chien, who traveled to St. Louis from San Jose, California, spoke highly of the camp and SLU’s program.

“What drew me to this camp was my interest in Parks College’s aviation program, as I’ve always wanted to become a professional pilot,” Chien said. “This seemed like a great place to start that journey.”

St. Louis Downtown Airport is owned and operated by Bi-State Development and is located just east of downtown St. Louis on more than one thousand acres in St. Clair County, Illinois.