Illinois educator shows young minds how to soar

 - May 21, 2008, 6:48 AM

In December of this year Jim Jackson, who developed what is arguably one of the most successful and innovative aerospace education programs at the high-school level, will be retiring after 33 years of teaching at Mundelein (Ill.) High Schooll. MHS boasts the only aviation curriculum in the country that includes building real aircraft in addition to ground school and flight-simulator instruction. The program has been in operation since 1980 and has won numerous state and national awards.

To date, students enrolled in aviation technology I and II have built an Acro Sport biplane, a Kitfox, a Lancair 360 and a Montana Coyote. They are currently putting the finishing touches on a Super Lancair ES. The sponsor of the latest Lancair project and Jackson intend to fly it to the North Pole during the summer of 2003 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the first successful heavier-than-air powered flight.

Over the years Jackson has won many accolades and national awards. Last year he received the 16th annual A. Scott Crossfield Aerospace Teacher of the Year Award at the National Congress on Aviation and Space Education. He is a leading proponent of aerospace education in secondary school.

“Part of the problem we’re seeing in the industry today relates to money and liability,” he told AIN. “Industry is paying the mechanic working on a $50,000 car more than the one working on a multimillion-dollar aircraft. The auto mechanic typically works indoors in a controlled climate, doesn’t work nights or weekends and has minimal liability compared with his aircraft counterpart. We simply have to start paying maintenance personnel equitable wages and benefits.”

Jackson stressed that industry needs to focus more on aviation in the high schools. “Any kind of serious career orientation is almost nil in most high schools, let alone for aviation. But if you develop a good program students will come. In our community people know of our program and we’ve had families move to Mundelein specifically so their children could participate in our aviation program.” MHS has three full classes of 24 students each, for a total of approximately 159 aviation students a year.

“I’m heartened to see that EAA has really begun focusing on both youth and teacher education programs, but not that many people can take them,” Jackson pointed out. “Industry simply needs to get behind aerospace education in both the primary and secondary schools. We need to reach out across the country.”