CLEARFIELD -- Students at Clearfield High School are getting hands-on experience in repairing airplanes at Hill Aerospace Museum as part of an aeronautical mechanics course. On Tuesday, a small group of students lined up around a C-7 Caribou that was damaged during a windstorm last year.
Using a hydraulic lift, several students were lifted to the plane's rudder to assess what tools were needed to remove it. Museum curator Nathan Myers said the rudder was anything but stable, with countless dents and rope strapping it onto the airplane.
To prepare for this week's field trip to the museum, 15 students in Chief Master Sgt. Darrel Gronau's aircraft structural repair course have spent the past three months learning about typical structural repairs, including how to work with rivets, how to repair latches and how to patch the skin on an aircraft.
The students will spend a couple of days getting the tail off, then the next several months fabricating new parts, putting the rudder back together and applying a fresh coat of paint before putting it back on the plane.
When Gronau was looking into adding the airplane repair class, he first talked to museum officials to see if they needed any help.
"They told me we could use the museum as our laboratory. That is good because they have a lot of different types of airplanes to work on down there," Gronau said.
"Not only are we helping save those vintage aircraft with our program, but if a kid makes a mistake, it won't really hurt anybody. That's pretty important when you have high school kids working on airplanes."
Having the students work on the planes also benefits the museum, which counts on volunteers to help sustain it.
"Our museum is a good teaching tool, because (students) get a good representation of a whole aircraft. These students could be our future workers on the next models of aircraft, and this can be their start," Myers said.
Several similar programs are offered at the college and university level in Utah, but this is the first time the course material is being taught in high school, according to the Utah Department of Education.
At the end of the year, the students will have had more than 170 hours of instruction and hands-on practice with aircraft structural repair.
Gronau served for more than 20 years as an Air Force structural repair mechanic working on fighter jets. After retiring, Gronau came back to teach at Clearfield High School, from which he graduated in 1982.
"I came back here to teach because we are in such close proximity to Hill Air Force Base," he said. "I always thought that, if I ever had a chance to teach, I would like to teach high school kids."
Now he is getting that opportunity to teach students things he didn't learn until he joined the Air Force.
Christian Stephens is planning to join the Air Force after high school, so the senior signed up for the class.
"I'm hoping this gives me the experience to make my training easier," said Stephens, who also realizes what an honor it is to be in the class. "It's good that our teacher trusts us enough to come do this."
Because it's a pilot course, Gronau felt he could only take 15 students, which meant he had to turn away several others who were interested.
Next year, he plans to add a second course to accommodate all interested students.