For Stephen Polis, teacher of Ground School Training at the Bixhorn Technical Center in Bellport, flying came as a gift from the US Military. When he started working toward his career in high school, he started as an automotive mechanic, with plans of keeping four wheels planted firmly on the ground.
“My two cousins and I were going to go to business together,” Stephen said. “We enrolled in BOCES together, he was auto/paint, and I was auto/mechanics. We wanted to make fast cars and with fancy paint and we were going to be millionaires.”
When Stephen enlisted in the US Army, his knowledge of automotive mechanics provided a strong foundation to build from. Stephen was enlisted as an aircraft mechanic, focusing primarily on helicopters. When he applied for flight school, he got his rotary-wing license with the help of his mechanics background. Even half a country away in Fort Rucker, Alabama, his BOCES education was opening doors for him.
After serving, Stephen worked in the commercial flight industry as a pilot. However, his service to his country continues to this day, as a flight instructor with the US Army Reserves in Islip.
After over 25 years in commercial aviation, Stephen was looking for a more family-friendly schedule. Being in the Army and a commercial pilot meant a lot of time away from home. “It was time to get back to family,” Stephen said.
Stephen had the qualifications from the military to jump right into the ESBOCES Aviation/Professional Pilot Training Program. His first day at BTC showed that he had a lot of work to do. “The first time I came into this class, there were cardboard boxes stacked to the ceiling and was told ‘it’s your program, do what you want with it,’” he said. “Basically, we started the program from the ground up again.”
The Aviation Program includes flight training that gives students the opportunity to get their Private Pilot’s Certificate. Students can also go into a variety of other specialties, including air traffic control and airplane maintenance. After training soldiers, learning how to teach students was a big transition for Stephen. However, the program helps find those driven to earn the privilege to soar the skies.
“It’s a rigorous program and it is academically demanding and goal oriented,” Stephen said. “You don’t get a pilot’s certificate by just being here, you have to earn it. You have to go get it. The success rate is higher than it is in the industry, but it is totally based on the individual.”
For those students who thrive in the environment, the experience is like no other. In June, Stephen honors his students with a pinning ceremony, much like in the military. Only the bold and the committed are the ones who get their wings.