Aviation Career Showcase at Richmond International Airport sparks HCPS students’ interest in aviation
Logan Walker felt right at home when he jumped into the cockpit of the ICON amphibious seaplane sitting outside of the hangars at Richmond International Airport.
The comfort may stem from the fact he’s already flown a plane as a teenager. Or it could just be his middle name: Jetpilot.
“It wasn’t until a few years ago that I really looked at my name and thought, ‘Huh, I’ve got a middle name that’s also a really cool job,’” the sophomore from Douglas S. Freeman High School said. “I got to take a discovery flight last year … and it was just the most natural thing in the world.”
Walker’s passion for flight was only heightened when he attended the Aviation Career Showcase on May 17, which offered 15 high school students from across Henrico County Public Schools to tour Richmond International Airport and connect with aviation professionals.
The event was a first-time collaboration between HCPS and the Capital Region Airport Commission designed to show interested students – many of whom attend Highland Springs or Varina high schools – the numerous ways they could launch a rewarding and fruitful career in aviation.
“If they can see it, they can be it,” said Dr. Monica Manns, HCPS’ chief equity, diversity and opportunity officer, at the introductory presentation at the airport’s Booty Armstrong Boardroom. Dr. Manns was joined by a group of local executives and leaders, including Virginia state senator Lamont Bagby and Richmond International Airport president and CEO Perry Miller, in welcoming the students and kicking off the day’s events.
Various motives and interests drew the students, a mixture of juniors and sophomores, to the showcase. Several envisioned themselves as future engineers, while others expressed their passions for piloting, aeronautics or military service.
But the recurring mantra of the day was that career options didn’t just stop at being an engineer or pilot. Every person that spoke during the day held a different role in the operations of the airport, all of whom are absolutely critical in ensuring safe travels for the millions of passengers that come through RIC every year.
Alijah Neal, a junior at Highland Springs, came to the showcase because of her general interest in engineering, but she was struck by how many different pathways the aviation industry offered for people like herself.
“A lot of [the engineers] actually started in different professions – I thought that was really interesting,” Neal said. “And then they made their way into being an engineer for airplanes. So just talking to them, learning about what they did, how they got there and why was really cool.”
Mechanics and maintenance specialists brought students around hangars at the Virginia Department of Aviation and the Richmond Jet Center and explained all of the different people that are relied on to get a plane back into the air. Some of these people started in a maintenance role before being able to pilot the aircrafts themselves – an enticing possibility for those looking to enter the workforce after high school or college.
Of course, part of the fun was exploring the planes themselves, including the ICON seaplane that was on display outside. After students got to put their hands on the controls of the unique two-seat vehicle, they took a seat in a Beechcraft King Air 350 – its Virginia flag emblem identifying it as part of the Executive Air Service that serves Gov. Glenn Youngkin.
Highland Springs junior Kemuel Fountain descended from the stairs of the governor’s plane with a smile of amazement.
“I’m very thankful to have this opportunity because we don’t get too many opportunities like this,” he said.
Various executives made their pitches to the students about the aviation industry by the end of the afternoon, whether that was breaking in through a trade school like the Aviation Institute of Maintenance or the expansive options offered by Richmond International Airport’s human resources department.
One of the final notes was made by the airport’s chief operating officer John Rutledge – a Varina High graduate from the Class of 1980. Rutledge said he didn’t envision himself working for the airport when he was a student, but it blossomed into a great career at a “cool” place.
“They might not have any idea of what goes on out here, but today they got to think, ‘There’s a whole lot more out here than we thought there was,’” Rutledge said. “And maybe it sparks an interest in a couple [students] – and changes their lives.”
For some students, the showcase could be the catalyst that leads to a future career in aviation. For others, like Walker, it only accelerated their ambitions even more.
“It’s going to push me forward twice as fast,” Walker said. “I’m so glad I got to come.”
HCPS students sit in an ICON amphibious seaplane outside of a hangar at Richmond International Airport on May 17. It was part of the Aviation Career Showcase, which gave students a chance to learn from professionals and get a glimpse of what different aviation careers offer at the airport.