This high school aviation class is setting the course for aerospace employment

Bill McInnish started this one of a kind program after recognizing a workforce shortage

More than a third of all aerospace employees in the state of Florida work in Brevard County, according to Career Source Brevard.

This week’s Getting Results Award winner has a track record of providing aerospace companies with qualified workers, and he’s doing it from a one-of-a-kind high school classroom.

On the campus of Eau Gallie High School you’ll find a few things no other high school can offer: a 7,500-square-foot airplane hangar with a Mitsubishi Diamond 1A business jet and a Piper PA-28 parked underneath.

The planes, along with a host of other teaching aids, make up the Aviation Fabrication and Assembly program.

Step into the workshop and you’ll hear a chorus of sounds. Air compressors run and students are busy with hand tools bending, cutting and riveting sheet metal.

Instructor Bill McInnish, a 22-year veteran of the Navy and Coast Guard, recognized workforce shortages in the aerospace and defense industries and developed the program, creating the curriculum nine years ago.

“Right now in the industry, everybody is talking about skilled labor. That’s the hardest thing to get right now,” McInnish said. “The mechanics in this country that take care of aerospace and aircraft, they look like me: old and gray. We have to bring the next generation along.”

Bill McInnish, Eau Gallie High School Aviation instructor. (WKMG-TV)

The course has become the standard for schools across the state and country that want to duplicate his success and create programs of their own.

“We’ve had a lot of people show up here. We’ve had the governor, we’ve had senators,” McInnish said. “People like coming here. This is neat. Seeing kids working on airplanes is not a normal sight.”

McInnish is getting results, saying all the students who complete the course are finding success after graduation.

“These kids are going to have jobs. These kids are going to college. We have 100% placement in the last three years and we’re looking at 100% placement this year,” McInnish said. “We have kids at SpaceX, Blue Origin, United Launch Systems. Our kids are pretty much in all of industry in Brevard County and beyond.”

Cira Dunn works on a project for the Eau Gallie H.S. Aviation Fabrication and Assembly program. (WKMG-TV)

Senior Cira Dunn wants to work in air traffic control. She made the decision after taking a class field trip to Melbourne International Airport.

“It’s exciting that we’re the only school that has this,” Dunn said.

Scott Ferguson, also a senior, said there’s a waiting list to get into the aviation course.

“It’s a tough class. You’re competing against hundreds of people across Florida because it’s the only program that does this,” he said.

Senior Conrad Timmer has plans to study aerospace engineering. He said what he’s learning in the classroom and shop is helping him prepare for the future.

“Having the opportunity to come here for this program has been so beneficial. It’s increasing my depth and knowledge of aerospace, airplanes and their function,” Timmer said. “I couldn’t imagine any teacher being greater for this class than Mr. Mack.”

McInnish spends countless hours promoting the class and lobbying for funding. He was named the national teacher of the year by the Air & Space Forces Association.

“I’ve had a lot of awards and did a lot of neat things in the military,” McInnish said. “But as far as my educational career, I’d say this is one of the pinnacles.”

McInnish said as long as he’s healthyhe will keep teaching.

“One of the questions my wife asks me all the time is, ‘Why are you still working?’” McInnish smiled. “I work because I love these kids. And not just love the kids, but I love seeing the kids be successful.”

About the Author:

Paul is a Florida native who graduated from the University of Central Florida. As a multimedia journalist, Paul enjoys profiling the people and places that make Central Florida unique.