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SOAR SUBJECT: Rancho High School aviation students flying high with boost from Allegiant Air

Not many teenagers acquire a pilot’s license before they earn a license to drive.

But Rancho High School senior Dabne Anaya is on track to do just that.

The priority makes sense for the 17-year-old with sky-high dreams. She fell in love with airplanes as a toddler, while flying to and from Mexico with her mother.

“I always had a special place in my heart for airplanes,” says Dabne, who even wears earrings shaped like tiny golden aircraft. “I loved watching the flaps coming down. Those flaps were my whole world.”

Dabne has devoted a good chunk of her childhood to her dream of becoming a pilot. She’s set to graduate this year from Rancho’s aviation magnet program, the only one of its kind in the Clark County School District and one of only a few such high school programs in the country. Students in the program, chosen by lottery, have the opportunity to study flight or engineering.

Rancho High School aviation magnet program student Dabne Anaya practices on a flight simulator Wednesday, March 20, 2019, at Rancho High School. (Sam Morris/Las Vegas News Bureau)

The program recently got a big boost from Allegiant Air, the Las Vegas-based airline, which donated to Rancho thousands of pounds of aircraft parts, worth more than $400,000. Allegiant will also award two $5,000 scholarships this year to seniors who plan to pursue post-secondary education in an accredited aviation program.

“Our goal is to inspire kids to pursue careers as aircraft pilots, maintenance technicians, flight attendants and dozens of other fields that support aviation,” said Hilarie Grey, Allegiant’s director of corporate communications, in a news release. “It makes sense that Las Vegas’ hometown airline supports the hometown aviation high school.”

Sunny career prospects await students who continue their studies in aviation. The demand for aviation professionals, including maintenance technicians, is expected to skyrocket in the next two decades as thousands of additional aircraft take to the sky.

“Learning how to work with aircraft parts from a commercial airline will give students the kind of expertise that will make them competitive in the aviation industry, especially in the maintenance engineering field,” Allegiant Vice President of Maintenance Christian Toro said in the release.

Rancho’s aviation maintenance students have been enjoying plenty of hands-on time with the donated aircraft parts, which include landing gear, an engine thrust reverser, radar antennae and other hydraulic and avionics components.

“There’s quite a supply out there,” says Gary Archambeault, an aviation teacher and retired Air Force pilot, of the treasure trove of donated parts stored in Rancho’s cavernous aviation lab. The school would not have been able to purchase those parts itself, he adds. “They’re just too expensive.”

Rancho High School aviation magnet program students Tony Truong, Jessica Mendez and Raul Avila work to install the nose gear on a Piper 150 Wednesday, March 20, 2019, at Rancho High School. (Sam Morris/Las Vegas News Bureau)

Rancho sophomore Tony Truong, 15, has yet to decide whether he wants to be a pilot or a technician. But he has long planned for a career in aviation. He spoke about his love for the field after he and a classmate, both dressed in dark blue coveralls, finished working on a small plane’s landing gear.

“When I was younger, my dad used to take me to McCarran Airport, and we used to watch planes take off and land,” Tony says. “The jet noises really relaxed me for some reason.”

Dabne and her friend, fellow Rancho senior Cindy Mora, are both applying for the Allegiant scholarships. The two pilots-in-training plan to continue their aviation studies after graduation and hope to attend Southern Utah University together.

Eighteen-year-old Cindy, who recently completed her second solo flight around the North Las Vegas airport, decided she wanted to fly years ago, when her older sister — who also went through Rancho’s aviation program — took her for a ride in the sky.

“I remember I was nervous,” Cindy says. “But once you’re up in the air, it just feels completely different. I’ve loved it ever since.”

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by Lynnette Curtis/Contributor to Las Vegas Newswire

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