McKINNEY — In one North Texas school district, if you're old enough to drive a car, you're old enough to fly an airplane.
Robyn Pope just graduated from McKinney North High School. As a student in the district's aviation program, she is on her way toward earning a pilot's license.
"I was kind of exposed to a whole new world," Pope said, "and it really opened my eyes to a lot more than just the basic things they teach you in high school."
McKinney ISD offers students an aviation program that can help them get their pilot's license before they graduate high school.
The program took a giant step forward when the district secured a $40,000 grant to buy an FAA-approved flight simulator.
"I do know that we are the only school district in Texas that has this quality, this caliber flight simulator in a high school setting for high school students," said Tamy Smalskas, director of the district’s career and technical education program.
McKinney business owner Fritz Mowery, a pilot, helped start the aviation program two years ago by providing the money to get it off the ground.
"Every kid plays video games, and it looks like a big video game to them," Mowery said. "But this is the real deal. This, you log flight hours in, and it means you can get real flight hours right here on the ground very inexpensively."
The cost savings will help economically disadvantaged students reach their aviation goals, and speed up the process toward getting their pilot's licenses.
"I never really experienced this type of class situation in a high school setting where I didn't have to pay for it," Pope said.
The aviation program has grown quickly from 30 students two years ago to 300 today. Now that there's a state-of-the-art flight simulator, district administrators expect it to accelerate.
"We actually have many students right now that are 16 years old and have their pilot's licenses," Smalskas said.