Salem-Keizer students flying high at new aviation location

Aviation Instructor James Hutches guiding CTEC student Anya Beebe as they take flight.

 Salem-Keizer Public Schools unveiled a new satellite location for the Career and Technical Education Center’s (CTEC) aviation program on Jan. 10, located at the Salem Municipal Airport on 3080 25 St. SE.

As a part of the SKPS’s CTEC program, the aviation program strives to provide students from Salem and Keizer with access to training and certifications as they prepare for careers in the high-demand aviation industry. 

The center boasts a range of impressive equipment to provide an immersive experience with full-motion flight simulators, drone technology and aircraft maintenance activities.

According to Rhonda Rhodes, the CTEC principal, these programs were created for 11 and 12 graders and are filled by kids from Salem-Keizer high schools.

Students begin their registration in 10 grade and rather than have requirements based on their GPA or SAT scores they are based on the passion the student possesses for a career in aviation, the amount of credits they have put towards graduating as well as availability within the program that caters to a specific field such as drone flight or maintenance. 

When asked about the benefits of the program for students, Rhodes described how students earn four of the eight credits needed each year, English classes are geared towards aviation and communicating within the field while science courses focus on meteorology and flight mechanics. 

The center has three main programs under the aviation banner, piloting, aviation maintenance and aviation mechanics, as well as programs for operating and repairing drones. 

Students that possess a desire to fly, build, or repair planes and drones will gain invaluable experience and certification through the CTEC Aviation program after completing it. 

In addition to aviation, the program also equips them with the ability to utilize state-of-the-art equipment. 

The real boon, Rhodes noted, is that students who attend the CTEC aviation program are given numerous real-world skills that they could not find for the low price offered by the program, free.

The program is an entirely free elective for students interested with transportation between school and classes being free as well. 

Through industry partnerships with companies such as Avelo Airlines, CTEC provides all the experts, equipment and technology that students need to prepare for all aspects of aviation. 

Funding for the program is also gathered through industry partners, fundraising and grant money given to the program. 

The CTEC program is free from the budget issues Salem-Keizer schools are dealing with now as those cuts apply only to brand new CTE programs and not classes specific to CTEC, according to documentation provided by the school. 

Salem-Keizer is the second school district in Oregon with an aviation program with the other in Hillsboro, though, according to staff and instructors managing the program, other counties, such as Lane County, are already looking into starting similar programs. 

The program has several experienced instructors such as Keizer resident and former Keizer Chamber board president, James Hutches. 

Hutches has worked as an aviation instructor for CTEC since August 2023 and will act as one of the lead aviation instructors. 

A lifelong flier, Hutches described his first flight at the age of 12 and how he was hooked from the start. 

With a new location, which Hutches noted is dead in the middle of Salem’s aviation community, students can be more immersed in the aviation lifestyle, with jet engines audible in the classroom hangar. 

Originally teaching for the program as a side job, Hutches taught in the drone program, though after a few classes he decided to shut down his business, Country Financial here in Keizer and join CTEC as a full-time piloting instructor. 

An important caveat Hutches noted about the school is that while aviation is the focus, the students only participate in what is called “ground school” or the portion of flight training before pilots get into the cockpit of a real airplane. 

Students get no free ride, however, as completing ground school and earning credentialing still require students to log at least 40 hours of flight time on a flight simulator, in addition to passing a written and practical exam. 

And with around 10 FAA-approved flight simulators, students have more than enough opportunity to log those hours. 

Hutches also described how, even if students do not end up as a pilot, the skills they gain allow them to pursue numerous other avenues in the aviation world. 

“Even if they’re not going to be pilots, they understand aviation. If they go and become EMT, they could be an air ambulance,” Hutches said. 

“There’s data collection drones, there’s photography drones for film and cinematography. Tons of different facets that they can go into and all those are needed in the airlines.”

McNary senior Camden Whetten, who is majoring in drones and robotics, spoke about his experience in the program for the last year. 

Whetten spoke highly of the new facility stating that having all the extra space to themselves really sets the facility apart. 

“We have a lot more freedom in what we can do here. We’re able to fly drones whenever we need to. We have all the new tools that we can use for different projects, which is so nice,” Whetten said.

Whetten described big plans after he graduates as well with his sights set on becoming an aerospace engineer then going on to work for organizations such as NASA. 

“To be building and designing rovers and robots to send to other planets, that’s always been my dream,” Whetten said. 

According to Avelo pilot and guest CTEC instructor Charles Talley, the program offered by CTEC is truly unique. 

“I said earlier this morning that I would’ve done anything for an opportunity like this when I was a student in the district,” Talley said. 

A 17-year pilot, Talley will serve as both a guest instructor for students but also in a professional capacity by disseminating to students his experience as a pilot in the field and to serve as a connection for students into the greater aviation world. 

Talley described how anyone with the opportunity to get into this program should not pass up the chance. 

“The amount of knowledge that you can gain here and the head start you can have going into, you know, a potential career in the aviation field is, is just unparalleled. To do so outside of the school district is incredibly expensive,” Talley said. 

For those interested in attending the school, simply go to the CTEC website and fill out an application. 

The official opening ceremony for the school will be held on Jan. 29 at the CTEC center on 3080 25th St. SE at 10 a.m. for the community and other industry leaders.

A South Salem High School student practicing morning drone maneuvers
Avelo pilot Charles Talley giving a speech to CTEC students
McNary senior Camden Whetten getting some advice on drone manuevers
CTEC students checking out one of several full compliments of Snap-on tool chests for aircraft maintenance
Instructor James Hutches describing how an old B-17 bomber being rebuilt inside the pictured building on the CTEC campus
CTEC students getting some hands on time with an airplane hull. Pictured are CTEC students: Anya Beebe (far left), Ryker Murphy (second from left), Garrett Curtis (center left), Joshua Wuelfing (center right), and Zunderluke Avellaneda (far right).
Instructor James Hutches giving guidance to another student mid-flight
Artwork based on old air navigation maps and flight patterns adorn the classrooms

Contact Quinn Stoddard
[email protected] or 503-390-1051

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