Jul. 30—Attendees at Coahulla Creek High School home football games are regularly treated to a flyover in a plane by one of the school's own students, Benson Milam.
"For Homecoming, I came and flew over the school, too," said Milam, a member of Coahulla Creek's class of 2023. "It's a freeing feeling."
"You can go anywhere you want and see all the sights," he said. Among the best places to sightsee is "west of Calhoun right at sunset," as well as "rising over the small mountains just south of Dalton."
Milam has been interested in planes since childhood, spending countless hours at Calhoun's Tom B. David Airport, where "I got to know the other people there" and began working on planes, which he continues to this day, he said. "I do a little bit of everything, (from) oil changes to taking them apart for inspection."
Through Whitfield County Schools' work-based learning program, Milam is able to spend less time in school and more at the airport, he said.
"For the longest time, I've known what I want to do (with my career and life), so why not just get started? That's the best thing you can do: go into it full-steam ahead."
He quit marching band — "our family's always been (in) marching band" — to devote more time to aviation and the airport, he said.
"I've had to give up a lot, but I feel I've grown up quickly and am a lot more mature" than most of his peers.
Milam is "an ideal student" and illustrates the benefits of work-based learning for certain types of students, said Lindsay Douglas, a Whitfield County Schools work-based learning coordinator based at Coahulla Creek. Work-based learning allows students to "go ahead and get work experience, (which) helps them achieve their goals."
This benefits both students as well as companies and businesses, she said.
"It meets the needs of students, and it meets the needs of business and industry, (as) they need workers."
Milam will dual enroll full time this year at Georgia Northwestern Technical College in Rome as he works to complete a two-year airframe and power plant certification, which will allow him to work on planes, he said.
"After five years, you get your Inspection Authorization (IA) certification, and then you can sign (aircraft) off" to fly.
"Long-term, I'd like to do some crop dusting, teach people to fly, and run a shop on the side," said Milam, a Skills USA Gold Medal State Winner — number one in the state — in aviation maintenance. In aviation, "you need to think about all the different things — when you're flying, you expect something to happen at the drop of a hat — roll with the punches, and fix them."
Because he spends so much time away from school at the airport, "most of my friends are over the age of 30," he said with a laugh. However, that's also led to him "making connections" in various industries; pilots at the airport have a variety of professions, and "you can't be nervous or shy if you want to make connections."
He does have at least one pal in his age group, fellow young pilot Hannah Miller, a 2020 Dalton High School graduate now attending the University of Georgia who received her private pilot's license in 2020.
"We're very close, best (of) friends," Milam said. "I helped her — I've actually been flying longer than her, but she's older — and she's working at the Athens airport" while studying in Athens and "doing great."
Milam "probably has more logged flight hours than most private pilots — (even though) he's not yet old enough to get his license — flown just about everything, and is super skilled," said Miller, who was salutatorian of her Dalton High class. He's "got a love for flying just like I do, and that's something we've always bonded over."
"He and I met years ago when I was in high school and have often seen each other at the airport, even since I've graduated," added Miller. He's "just an awesome friend with an awesome love for flying."
Milam has his own plane, a 1946 Aeronca Model 7 Champion.
"I got it in April (2021), and I've put in about 100 hours on it since," he said earlier this year. As a student-pilot, he flies mostly between Dalton and Calhoun, and he can't fly with passengers, but once he has his pilot's license the first person he plans to take up is his father.
"My family has been really supportive, driving me to Calhoun airport all the time, and they bought me a plane," he said. "I can't express how good they've been to me."