Nicole Jackson, left, a recent Westosha Central High School graduate became a pioneer in flight for the school’s Aviation Club in June. Two days later, her co-president, Olivia Rasmussen took control of the plane the club built.
Recent graduate commands plane
When Nicole Jackson was a Westosha Central High School freshman, she played basketball and supported the Falcons as a cheerleader, but the recent graduate never envisioned becoming a pioneer in flight.
Jackson, who crossed the stage to accept her diploma in June, became the first student to conduct a solo flight on the Falcon One airplane, assembled by her and other Central STEM Aviation Club classmates.
Falcon One, an RV-12 aircraft is a two-seat plane equipped with a 100-horsepower Rotax engine, was made possible through a donation made by nonprofit organization Eagle’s Nest along with program mentor James Senft.
Jackson, last year’s club co-president with Olivia Rasmussen, stated the 13-month project is fortunate to have the support of Senft and Eagle’s Nest.
“Eagle’s Nest, our sponsor, has been so amazing to us,” Jackson said. “Aviation is very hard to get into with the large cost that comes with it.”
Total price for the plane kit, which had been a simple box of parts, was $70,000 with an additional $30,000 for supplies.
Jackson commended Senft, who spent several months helping students, for maintaining an orderly flow.
“I don’t know who else could organize all this and not go crazy,” Jackson stated. “The amount of hours Mr. Senft has in this club really shows his passion of spreading aviation.”
An early passion
The passion spread to Jackson, who said the stratosphere had always been a curiosity, and wanted to learn more.
Jackson stated she often went to the planetarium, and through her time with a Kenosha County 4-H Club, she attended a SpaceCamp before her freshman year at Westosha Central.
The school’s STEM Aviation Club only intensified her passion.
“It wasn’t really until high school that I really became interested in airplanes,” she said. “This club told me that this would be the right career for me.”
After three years, opportunity knocked when she along with 16 other club members received the airplane kit, bringing more benefits beyond building.
One benefit was an ability to obtain a pilot’s license and fly the aircraft when completed.
First in flight
Jackson had been the first among all students to take control of plane June 13, with Rasmussen following suit, taking her flight June 15.
The first experience pushed Jackson’s adrenaline, and took time to absorb her emotions as she lifted off the runway.
“I started to get those nervous jitters, but as soon as I got off the ground they went away and it was kind of this feeling of, ‘Is this really happening?’” Jackson recalled. “I felt a mix of excitement at the thrill of being up there alone, and peace from just being able to enjoy my new freedom.”
Two days later, before Rasmussen took her solo flight, Jackson recalled giving her advice.
“The biggest thing I had to say was how much quicker you takeoff,” Jackson said. “The weight of only one person allows the plane to be more responsive.”
“This is one thing that took me by surprise when it first took off. It also allows you to climb very quickly,” Jackson added.
Since Jackson’s first flight, she has embarked on four flights, all close to Burlington’s airport as part of training.
Her most recent mission was a night flight.
“I recently completed a night flight with stops in Madison and Watertown and I think that has been one of my favorite flights so far. Seeing Madison’s lights from above was extremely pretty,” she said.
After she completed the night flight, she embarked on a short solo flight to Monroe Municipal Airport, leaving just two items left on her list.
The two items are the long solo cross-country and check ride with an examiner.
As she checks off all items on the list, she plans to pursue a career in aerospace engineering at Milwaukee School of Engineering in the fall.
But, given her experience at Westosha Central, she could be well ahead of the game with her future classmates.
The experience is something she could not have imagined when she entered Westosha Central.
“I don’t think anyone four years ago could have imagined this happening. A group of high school aged kids building an airplane sounds like something that couldn’t be done,” Jackson said. “When I started high school, I was a cheerleader and a basketball player. As soon as I heard this club was starting, I knew I had to do this club instead.”