Students take to the skies

The Riverwood Flight Club introduces students to the mechanics of flying.

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The Riverwood Flight Club introduces students to the mechanics of flying.

While COVID-19 delayed or scaled back many school activities, it also grounded one activity at Riverwood International Charter School in Sandy Springs.

For 13 years, members of the school’s Flight Club have met once a week after the last bell to learn about the mechanics of flying. Pre-pandemic, the group, which has ranged from a half dozen to 60 at times, got a chance to put their training to the test during flights out of Gwinnett County Airport at Briscoe Field, where math teacher and club founder Alan Sohmer rents planes.

“When I fly, I take two people at a time and sometimes get another instructor to take two other kids,” he said. “We’ll fly out of Gwinnett to the Winder airport so one student can fly out and the other back.”

Though COVID put a crunch in those plans for 19 months, students have kept up with the lessons by using a flight simulator built by a team of students led by Lucas Daniels, a Riverwood grad and former club president. Daniels is now a student at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

“He wrote a grant and built it with amazing graphics,” said Sohmer. “We can hook it up to my computer and a smart board, and all the gauges are in the same spot. It’s shocking how well a 15- or 16-year-old kid can fly a plane from practicing in the simulator.”

Club president and junior Adrian Boemanns has been part of the group for three years and has had the chance to taxi a Cessna 172 around Briscoe’s grounds.

“I joined to get more practice and learn about things like starting, take-offs, landings and traffic patterns, the basics of flight” he said. “It’s more of a hobby right now, but I enjoy it. And the club is free.”

Club classes also include learning about each part of a plane and the physics of flight. By the end of the school year, the kids who have stuck with the program get to make actual flights with Sohmer, a licensed pilot with a long-time love of being in the air.

“When I was a teenager in Savannah, I wanted to fly fighter planes, so they told me to get a math or engineering degree,” he said. “I got my private license and was going to teach then become a commercial pilot, but just as I finished my training, they changed the minimum number of hours required. It would have taken a few more years, and by then, I’d met my wife, we’d moved to Atlanta and were expecting twins. So even though it wasn’t my plan, I kept teaching.”

Sohmer is “licensed to do everything” around a plane, but his chief objective now is sharing that love of flying with students.

“I’m introducing it to them and teaching them everything I can,” he said. “They can take it and do whatever they want; if they want to pursue a career, I tell them to do it.”

One of his biggest thrills is watching young students take the controls.

“It’s so neat when you see them doing something they’ve never done before,” he said. “Getting them in the plane – that’s really exciting.”

Information about Riverwood is online at

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