High school interns learning aviation ropes

Feb. 7—For a couple of Washington High School seniors, this spring semester is truly about flying by.

For the first time ever WHS and the Daviess County Airport are teaming up to provide internships for students at the facility.

"We were asked by the high school. They reached out and said they had two students interested in aviation careers and we jumped in head first as an internship host," said Daviess County Airport Manager Erica Burkemper. "We try to get them in the field as much as possible. We are not doing anything special. We are just throwing them into the mix of what we have to do."

Senior Will Merold is one of the interns who spends a couple of hours each day at the airport.

"We get to go outside of school a couple of periods a day and figure some stuff out that we may do in the future," said Merold. "It has always been my dream to become an airline pilot. I thought I would come out here and help progress on my pilot's license. I have not been up in the air yet but I have been working on my ground school. Once I am done with my ground school then I can continue my private pilot lessons. I am about half-way done with that."

For senior intern Ole Kroeger it is about more than learning to fly.

"My grandfather and great-grandfather were pilots so I thought with my family history that I might want to make aviation my future," said Kroeger. "I am considering making a living as a pilot or possibly managing an airport. I want to learn the business side of the airport."

The students are only about one month into the internship and they are getting their hands-on experience.

"Mainly, I am doing hanger checks, fueling the planes that come in from all different places. Those are the main things, work in the office, tidy it up," said Kroeger. "I think it is giving me a taste of what aviation is and how to manage an airport. This also gives a chance to just experience it. I could find out that I don't want to do this for a living. This way I won't waste a lot of time and money."

The internship also helps put the students ahead of many of their peers who will be looking to get involved in aviation.

"The goal is to get the private and then commercial rating and someday reach airline pilot," said Merold. "I am still deciding right now whether I will go to a flight school and get a four-year degree or stay here and get all my ratings and get a four-year degree. This helps me get things done at a younger age. It puts me ahead of a lot of people looking to do the same thing. It gives me an opportunity to get a step ahead."

This spring promises to be an interesting one at the airport. There will be some special events at the facility in connection with the eclipse in April.

The work and exposure to aviation has both young men thinking about the future.

"One of the things this is giving me is connections. I am getting to meet a lot of people already in aviation and am learning from them," said Kroeger. "Every day is a different day. Every day there is someone new coming in. It's exciting."

"My end goal is to fly for Delta or United," said Merold. "Right now, it is moving slowly, but that is my own fault. Once I get out of school and begin working a job, it should go much faster."

Meanwhile, the airport is already sold on the idea of being a place where students can learn about aviation and thrive.

Burkemper says she definitely wants the program to continue and is willing to consider offering internships to students from other schools in the area.

"The airport is doing very well right now. It is growing and the internship program helps us be a part of the school and the community. This gets aviation into the kids' hands faster. There are a lot of them that don't know this opportunity exists," she said. "If they are willing to put in the time, we can help them learn about aviation and once they get to that point, the world can be at their fingertips. It opens a massive opportunity that only a handful of kids now might know about. I want the airport to be there for the generations. It's a win if we can help a kid find his or her career path. That's a win-win for everybody."