GULF SHORES — Wednesday was a "chamber of commerce" day, courtesy of the Gulf Shores School System.

It was mostly sunny with light winds, perfect for the first public flight of an airplane made by high school students.

Students in Gulf Shores High School's Aviation Academy had completed the building of their first airplane, which had received FAA approval. Students, school officials, and community leaders celebrated the plane's first public flight.

On Wednesday at Gulf Shores International Airport at Jack Edwards Field, Alabama State Superintendent of Education Dr. Eric Mackey took the first flight.

The pilot of the two-passenger craft was also a graduate of GSHS and is now a teacher in the school's aviation program.

Aviation Academy instructor Haley Kellogg is a former Gulf Shores High School student who became a commercial pilot. Upon returning to Gulf Shores, Haley joined the Gulf Shores High School faculty with a passion for inspiring students, particularly young women, to pursue careers in aviation. Most of the courses that Haley teaches meet at the hangar labs at the Gulf Shores Airport. She immerses students in hands-on learning activities, ensuring that academic content is seamlessly connected to real-world career experiences.

The partners and mentors of Gulf Shores Aviation Academy provide ongoing support for students and the aviation program. They include expert local residents who are passionate about aviation as well as organizations: Gulf Air Center, Gulf Shores International Airport, Aeropro, and Tango Flight.

The Gulf Shores High School Aviation Academy is open to all high school students and includes courses in mechanics of flight, aerospace engineering, and aircraft maintenance. Students in the academy can earn their drone pilot certification and prepare for the written exam for the FAA private pilot license.

Wednesday's "First Flight" celebration included presentations by aviation teachers and students and remarks from Mackey. Students, partners, administrators, mentors, and teachers were on-site to showcase the aircraft and student learning, offer tours of the hangar labs, discuss the program, and answer questions.

The program has paved the way for students to take their choice of paths in aviation:

  • Immediate jobs at airports and aviation businesses.

  • College admission and scholarships in aeronautical-related fields.

  • Military flying careers.

  • Pilot training.

  • Marketing of flight-related businesses.

The Gulf Shores aviation program was intended to also serve as a model for other high schools in Alabama. It has done so already. B.C. Rain High School in Mobile is next to Brookley Field, a private airport and former Air Force Base. Rain is opening a high school aviation program. Satsuma High School in the north Mobile suburbs is opening its aviation program, and its students and faculty were on hand Wednesday for the First Flight event in Gulf Shores.

"The sky is not the limit, it's just the beginning." – Chuck Yeager

Jim' Zig' Zeigler writes about Alabama's people, places, events, groups and prominent deaths. He is a former Alabama Public Service Commissioner and State Auditor. You can reach him for comments at

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