Discover Flights help Omaha students reach for the sky


Jared Barton

A photo of a small plane that high school students use to learn to fly
High school students train and learn to fly at Millard Airport as part of the Discovery Flights program. Photo by Jared Barton/the Gateway

Last Saturday at 8 a.m., 17 Omaha area high schoolers waited for their opportunity to fly. At 8:10 a.m., the first group took to the sky in a collaborative effort between the University of Nebraska at Omaha, the Boy Scouts of America Mid-America Council and Oracle Aviation, called Discovery Flights.

Discovery Flights are more than just 30-40 minutes of flight in a four-seater plane—they are part of a process to teach prospective aviation students about the industry in a very real and livable way.

The program, a branch of the Exploring Post program, is a group of students interested in a single career field and allows local groups and institutions to show them the ins and outs of a career in aviation.

The UNO Aviation Institute-hosted Exploring Post program ranges from simulations, to airports behind the scenes, to riding in a single-prop Cessna over their hometown. In any case, they get a new perspective on just what the aviation industry does.

Scott Vlasek of the UNO Aviation Institute said this kind of experience is important before the students decide to go into the industry.

“When you get into one of these airplanes and you get up over the city and kind of see everything, feel everything, it’s a very cool experience,” Vlasek said.

With definite retirement ages for air traffic controllers and pilots being set at 55 and 65 respectively, the industry has a steady need for new workers, and the program gives the teens a good overview so they can choose effectively what career path they may want to take.

“For a lot of students, that’ll start their passion and drive for wanting to come to our program and eventually become a professional in the aviation industry,” Vlasek said.

Living proof that UNO students enter the industry after experiences like these can be found right at the airport—the pilots for the event are UNO alumni.

The program doesn’t just attract those wanting to work on the commercial or private side of flight, though in its 23 years, it has started many students on this career path. One attendee, Xzavier Horton, said he wants to join the military as a pilot.

“I’ve been in bigger planes a lot of times. I want to go into the military, become a helicopter pilot,” Horton said. “I want to fly a Chinook.”

With the students were several parents, who were just as excited as their kids. One of the parents, Denise Lynes, said she thought the program really brought the concept of the airport, and all the work and people involved in the industry itself, to life for her son.

“This has been great because it’s helped him see all the aspects of how they get the planes in the air— how they do the baggage claim and the firetruck at the airport. It kind of pulls all the aviation pieces together,” Lynes said.

Several of the students attending already have their hearts set on a specific career in the industry, but some were just there to fly in a small plane and get a feel for how they handle. Vlasek said that you can always tell when it was their first experience—the excitement on their dismount from the plane is radiant.

“When they get back on the ground, people come back with that smile on their face,” Vlasek said.