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The Nashville Tennessean
Aeronautics School Teaches Mechanics of Flying
Students from around the world travel to Nashville to learn about aircraft maintenance and become certified technicians.
By SUZANNE NORMAND BLACKWOOD
When Jennifer Baker visits elementary schools, she talks to children about Charles Taylor.
Most people are familiar with Wilbur and Orville Wright, she said. But Charles Taylor, the Father of Aviation Maintenance, is not as well known. And that's a shame, Baker said. Taylor built the engine for the Wright brothers' first powered flight in 1903. Baker, who owns Baker's School of Aeronautics on Murfreesboro Pike near Nashville International Airport, said aviation mechanics often don't get the glory and recognition given pilots. But they don't do it for the glamour, she said. They do it because they love it. "They're a different type of breed," Baker said. "They're humble, passionate. They have a sense of pride about the safety of the aircraft."
Student Becomes Owner
The school, which will move to Lebanon in the next year or so, was previously called King's School of Aeronautics. Founded by Russell King, it has mostly specialized in training aviation mechanics.
Baker met King through her sister, Susan Whatley, who worked as an instructor for the school. King invited Baker to take some classes to see how she liked it. At the time, Baker said, she barely knew how to change the oil in her car. She studied art in college and had worked in customer service for Xerox. The rest of her time was spent being a stay-at-home mom. "He took this young 26-year-old girl who knew nothing about airplanes and trained me," Baker said. Baker became an instructor at the school in 1978. In 1980, she became a partner with King, and in 1994, she bought him out, becoming the sole owner. Baker had already established Baker's Aviation Store, which was associated with the school. This made it easy to get the new name out there, she said. Baker's School of Aeronautics offers weekend classes for students seeking private, commercial or instrument licenses. Instrument licenses require additional training. But, said Baker, "our main love is mechanics."
Certification Is Goal
About 90 percent of the school's students take classes throughout the week to receive their airframe and power plant ratings. Once they become certified A&P mechanics, they can take an additional four-day class if they want to receive Inspection Authorization ratings. Students are trained to work on both jet engines and reciprocating or piston engines, which are in most small aircraft.
Upon completion of the classes, students can become certified by the FAA as Aviation Maintenance Technicians. Baker said the school only takes students who have at least 30 months of experience, which is a requirement of the FAA for those receiving A&P ratings. Students must also be fluent in English and be prepared for an intense two weeks of training and testing.
"It's a real heavy battery of tests they have to take," said Baker, adding that students take written and oral examinations. The school has four full-time instructors, one of whom is Baker's daughter, Becky. Part-time instructors teach on the weekends. Baker said most of her instructors are women, which is somewhat unusual. But, she said, women make good instructors, because they have "that maternal instinct" and want to "nurture their students."
Baker said students mostly learn about the school through word of mouth. Some own airplanes and want to be able to work on them. Some have military backgrounds and want to get certified.
Sometimes, companies send their employees there to be trained. Students have ranged from country music stars to senators to a guy who designed the interior of a prince's plane. They have ranged in age from 18 to 86. Many students, Baker said, come from different parts of the world. Recently, the school has had students from England, Scotland, Australia, South Africa, Sudan and Singapore. Baker said international students must have passports and visas before the FAA will give them authorization to attend the school. She said they can apply for passports and visas after receiving a "letter of invite" from the school. International students are also interviewed by the FAA before coming. Johann Lourens, a recent graduate from South Africa, said the school has a very "international flavor." Some of his classmates were from Malaysia, India and the Philippines, but they all work for a company in Singapore. Lourens said he found out about the school from someone in South Africa and from someone in Olive Branch, Miss. He buys and sells planes and came to the school to learn how to maintain them in addition to flying them. The FAA license, he said, is recognized and respected worldwide. Lourens described the classes as intense but enjoyable. The instructors, he said, are "professional" and "results-oriented." "The level of professionalism is beyond reproach," he said.