Sky’s the limit for Butler Tech’s aviation high schoolers

MIDDLETOWN — All high school students are encouraged to aim their dreams high but a growing Butler Tech program — in a unique classroom at this city’s airport — is literally showing them how to reach the skies.

Started four years ago, Butler Tech’s popular Aviation Pathway program at Middletown Regional Airport now teaches dozens of local teens how to become airplane and aerial drone pilots or professional aviation maintenance technicians.

And for the first time, Butler Tech officials recently announced that starting next school year Butler County high school sophomores will also be allowed into the college-tech credit program designed to help regional and national airports and commercial airlines fill much-needed employee and career positions.

The aviation educational track also got a major boost last year when $13 million funding agreement between the Butler Tech, the city, county and state was approved for new, expanded classrooms in a separate facility at the airport.

Groundbreaking for a new school is scheduled for this coming spring and eventually a much larger, state-of-the-art facility will replace the two makeshift classrooms attached to a hangar where students now learn.

Butler Tech junior Wyatt Pratt will have graduated by the time the new aviation learning facility is up and running but he has no regrets about choosing to be among the program’s initial grads.

The 16-year-old Monroe resident is among a handful of classmates already studying to earn a Federal Aviation Administration private pilot license and his post-high school dream is to become a commercial airline pilot.

“Since I was a little kid, I really loved airplanes … and as I grew up and got into high school I carried that passion for aviation on,” said Pratt, taking a break from class in the hangar while surrounded by airplanes, including two stripped down models used by the teens to learn mechanics and instrumentation of flight.

“Signing up was really a great decision for me,” he said.

One of the focuses of the program is to pass the written FAA-private pilot or drone pilot license exam. No flying is done by the teens but on-site flight simulators are a part of their learning.

Graduates can also choose an FAA general maintenance exam preparation learning track.

Classmate Estella Cload is a senior in the program and she hopes to use the pilot licensing program to later advance to becoming a helicopter flyer.

“This program has really shown me and expanded my knowledge about helicopters … and it is a fantastic program,” said Cload.

The aviation instruction “can take you really far, if you are down to do some hard work.”

Veteran pilot and Butler Tech Aviation Instructor Rich Packer said the program will soar higher starting in the fall of 2025 when the new school opens.

“We’re going to expand into a 25,000-square-foot building at the (northern) far end of the airport. We’re going to have (training) for (aviation) mechanics and engineers as well,” said Packer.

The jobs are out there.

Aviation industry experts cite the daily transport by airlines of more than 10 million passengers and the shipping of more than $18 billion of goods through the air.

“This program is a great opportunity to get some real-world experience in aviation. The aviation field is growing like crazy and the airlines need pilots, mechanics and they need everybody in relation to aviation.”

“If we can help (students) get a jump start on their aviation career it’s a lot better option.”

For more information on the program and its new applicant option for high school sophomores to attend next school year, see Butler Tech’s website at

About the Author