Clarification: An earlier version of this story did not identify the former student, Lucas Daniels, who designed and built the Riverwood High Flying Club’s flight simulator computer. Daniels now attends Embry Riddle Aeronautic University.

A handful of students fly high every year with the help of math teacher Alan Sohmer through the Riverwood High Flying Club.

Adrian Boemanns, who serves as the club’s president, has been flying with simulators since he was six or seven years old. He thought the flying club would be a fun thing to do.

“I heard about it from my neighbor who went there a few years before me,” the high school junior said.

He gets free flight experience and instruction through the club. The club members watch videos produced by the Cessna Aircraft Company. They use a flight simulator to practice skills before they go up and actually fly.

“Everybody thinks it’s hard. It’s actually really easy to do,” Boemanns said, adding he hopes flying stays in his life. 

“Right now it’s just a hobby,” he said. But, he is in dual enrollment at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, a private university based in Florida.

Another student, Lucas Daniels, helped Sohmer write a grant five years ago and built a computer to run a flight simulator that was hooked up to a Smart Board at Riverwood High.

“The graphics on it are better than when I went to school 15 years ago with $50,000 technology,” Sohmer said.

Students use this and flight simulators at home that are the real thing, he said, with all the gauges in the right positions.

“When the students get into playing, they actually know exactly what to do just from practicing it in the classroom or at home,” Sohmer said.

He has sponsored the flying club for 13 years. He’s been teaching at Riverwood for 17 years and a teacher a total of 25 years.

“Before I became a math teacher, I wanted to fly fighter planes. The military told me to get a math or engineering degree,” Sohmer said. He earned the degree but couldn’t get into the military after he got hurt.

“And then I thought, ‘What am I gonna do with the math degree?’ And that’s how I kind of got into teaching,” Sohmer said.

He planned on teaching and later switching to aviation.

“That’s when I met my wife and we got married, and I borrowed a lot of money to go to flight school and I got my commercial license and CFI [certified flight instructor] license and instrument rating,” he said.

Around that time, the minimum hours needed to become a commercial pilot changed. He had twins and didn’t want to be away from home, so he stuck with teaching.

“But I really had a passion for aviation,” he said.

He spoke to Riverwood’s principal at the time and asked to do an aviation program. His principal said he could as long as he did it for free. He started to tutor students, showing them videos and teaching them everything he could about aviation.

If it was OK with their parents, he would take the students up in a plane.

“I just got my certified flight instructor license, so I was able to take students up. And we’d go up to Gwinnett and fly around Lake Lanier or go to other airports,” Sohmer said.

He’s been doing it every year ever since. Some years he starts off with as many as 35 students, though by the end of the year he might end up with 5 or 10.

“I only fly if it’s absolutely safe like wind conditions and clouds and everything,” Sohmer said.

Bob Pepalis

Bob Pepalis covers Sandy Springs for Rough Draft Atlanta and Reporter Newspapers.