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Pasco County Aviation Technology Teacher Steve Franks stores his Civil Air Patrol (CAP) uniform in his office at Hudson High School. “I still got all of my uniforms from the United States Coast Guard (USCG),” retired pilot and CAP Captain Franks says. “I still got all my flight suits, and I go flying with them once or twice a year.”
Franks, 64, has spent a lifetime in aviation and comes from a long line of pilots. “My dad was a pilot,” Franks said. “And I had two uncles who were crop dusters.”
By age 18, he owned a Stinson Voyager which Franks said he kept even after he joined the USCG where he said he flew on every one of the C-130s, “Up until they got the J models.”
“7226 HU-16 Albatross was the very first airplane I was assigned to in the USCG,” Franks said. “That was my favorite airplane to fly in. We could land on water. You could open the hatch up, throw out the anchor, and go swimming.”
Franks decided to join the USCG to follow in his father’s footsteps and see the world. “I wanted to fly, and I wanted to travel,” he said.
Growing up in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, the home of the Wright Brothers National Memorial, Franks said, “I knew what Kitty Hawk was like, I knew that’s where the Wright Brothers flew the first plane, but I wanted to see what the rest of the world was like.
“I had a football scholarship to North Carolina State to play football,” said Franks, who is a also a varsity football coach at Hudson High. “I gave it up ’cause I wanted to fly.”
Franks travels took him around the globe. “On the 130s I traveled all over the world,” he said. “Went to Russia, went up to Thule Greenland and as far south as Argentina.”
When Franks retired from the service he become a flight instructor for International Guard and Air Force in Tampa for C-130s where he trained pilots using 6-axis flight simulators.
“I got my A&P license when I was in the Coast Guard because I was a mechanic on C-130s, and then I flew on them as an engineer, “ Franks said. “And then when I retired, I got hired as a professional engineer on the 727,” he said.
“I was a pilot, and I was a flight engineer on C-130s. I got my pilot’s license, though, before I ever joined the Coast Guard.”
Franks said he used Gleim Aviation study guides to achieve most of his pilot certifications. “I got my Private Pilot, Instrument, and Commercial, and my engineer ticket using Gleim,” he said. Some of those same updated study guides are being used by his students at Hudson High to study for the FAA general knowledge exam.
Franks’ extensive experience in aviation played a key role in landing him in the position he is in today teaching for Pasco County, Hudson High School and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. Franks is on a mission that is coming to fruition at Hudson High, home of the Cobras and the mantra “Achieving Success Now and in the Future.”
Two summers ago, Franks and a team of staff and teachers from Pasco County School installed equipment for the the launch of the Hudson High School Aeronautics-Aviation Academy. Five simulators, 18 computer stations, drones, a jet propulsion machine and two used airplanes later, the program launched in 2015. Now, the Hudson High Aviation Academy program heads into year four this Fall 2017 semester. With the addition of a 3D printer that students will use for wing design and more, the program continues to move forward despite budget cuts.
“I’ve had 12 students graduate this year and go on to the National Aviation Academy in Clearwater, Florida to become A&P mechanics, and I have three of them pursuing their pilot’s licenses as well as their A&P mechanics at the same time,” Franks said.
According to the Career and Technical Education (CTE), the mission of the aerospace-aviation academy is “To create a strong, rigorous, seamless Aerospace and Aviation learning continuum that is aligned to higher education and the workforce.”
Director of CTE for Pasco County Schools Terry Aunchman said the program has been designed to survive despite budget cuts and flex with future staffing needs in the aviation industry.
“The aviation program funding came from a state appropriation, and we didn’t want the program to be burdened with recurring funds,” said Aunchman. The school district made all of its major equipment purchases upfront,” said Aunchman.
“As the program grows and student interest grows, and as we look to the future, we look at what the students need, what the industry needs,” Aunchman said. “If there is a need for something else in the (aviation) labor market, we can adjust and get efforts focused on getting cohorts of students certified.”
This is where Franks comes in. “When I’m teaching, everyone is busy,” he said about how he manages his program and classroom. He has 15 students at a time. “My kids will come in at lunch, and they’ll work on the airplane or simulators. They love it.”
According to Franks, the opportunities that await his students are endless. “The industry itself is wide open,” he said. “With growth of the airlines, and the A&P mechanics field, it’s expected to be that way for the next 12 years.”
“Pilots and mechanics are retiring at a higher rate than we thought,” Franks said. “Pilots are hitting the 65 year age limit, and they (airline industry) are looking for more pilots and we’re not getting nearly as many as we need.”
For Franks, the mission of fueling the aerospace industry with new talent is a task he has embraced. With emphasis being placed on STEM curriculum, he said his program is right on target.
“I have about 50 students a year,” Franks said. “The program is going into its fourth year and most of my students request to come back. Others, who graduated, go on to get their pilot’s license or get their A&P Mechanic’s license. And some students use their experience and training in the aviation program to fine tune their career path.”
Hudson High 2017 graduate Cameron Abbey, 18, had planned to study computer engineering, but after two years in the aviation academy, he changed his major to mechanical engineering.
“We bought an airplane, a Cessna 152, and we started working on that,” said Abbey, who will be a freshman at Pasco–Hernando State College (PHSC) in the fall. “We started to dismantle the plane, with a goal to have the plane in working condition again.
“It made me feel that I wanted to work with something more mechanical.”
Since graduating, Abbey has earned his Remote Pilot certificate to fly his new DJI Phantom 3 drone commercially and plans to start a business with aerial photography. “It gave me the urge to get a pilot’s license,” he added about future goals.
“I’d like to move on to USF to broaden my experience,” he said about studying engineering.
“And work for a company such as Boeing or a car manufacturer.
Franks is anticipating the program entering its fourth year in a few months. He said he sees his students start to excel in other classes because of what they are learning in his. “Along with their science classes, their math classes, their history, it all ties in together. So they use it all on a day-to-day basis,” Frank said about the aviation curriculum. “When they get into Earth Science, they’re studying weather, they use math skills every day using the algebraic equations and physics.
Aunchman said he has plans to expand the aviation curriculum by creating a bus that drives from school to school set up with simulators and aviation equipment. With the right faculty in place, he expects that aerospace and aviation education will continue to build excitement at Hudson High School and throughout the Pasco County School District.
“To have a person like Mr. Franks with the vast experience is paramount to the success and the building of the program,” he said. “The Coast Guard, flight operations and what he did in his civilian life in aerospace and aviation, plus the real-world experience he brings into the classroom, he’s an incredible asset to the school and an advocate for the students.”
Franks has advice to schools or teachers who might want to launch an aviation technology program. “They need to sit down with any college in the area to see if they can get support and with any aviation schools or businesses close by where they are teaching as well as having their own experience,” Franks said.
“I would make sure they had the Gleim books to go along with preparing for the FAA knowledge test. “They make my students aware of the questions that the FAA is going to require them to know in order to pass the exam,” he said.
“When they give you the answer in the book, not only do they give you the correct answer but they give you the reason why the other answers, the distractors, are incorrect so that you fully understand why the answer is correct and why the other ones are wrong.”
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