Assembling Futures in Aviation, AFA’s National Teacher of the Year: Bill McInnish

August 21, 2023   |   By Patrick Reardon

After nearly 22 years of aviation experience serving in the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard, Bill McInnish retired in 1994 as an Aviation Technology Educator for the Coast Guard—opening the door to three decades of sharing his passion for instruction, aircraft assembly, and flying planes with high schoolers in economically disadvantaged communities.

McInnish, a 9th-12th grade CTE instructor of Aviation Fabrication and Assembly Technician and Private Pilot Ground School classes at Eau Gallie High School in Melbourne, Fla., was named the Air & Space Forces Association’s 2023 National Teacher of the Year (TOY). The award is sponsored by Rolls-Royce North America. He was nominated by AFA’s Florida Space Coast Chapter #309. 

“Congratulations to Bill McInnish for this well-deserved recognition as AFA’s National Teacher of the Year,” said John Shade, Executive Vice President for Business Development and Future Programs at Rolls-Royce Defense. “Thanks to his efforts, the future is even brighter for the next generation of aerospace leaders. At Rolls-Royce, we are proud to sponsor AFA’s Aerospace Education program and support all the stellar educators recognized coast to coast in the Teacher of the Year Program.”

“Bill’s initiatives have garnered the attention of Florida’s elected leaders, NASA, the local aerospace industry, and his fellow educators across the nation,” said AFA’s Florida State President Todd Freece.

McInnish has taught at Eau Gallie High School since 2015 where he established the Aviation Fabrication and Assembly program, the first program of its kind in the nation. By providing hands-on engineering experience with real planes, the program awards high school students with National Aerospace/Aircraft Assembly certifications, enabling them to find work as entry-level aircraft technicians right out of high school.

“We provide students with a roadmap and a destination, requiring they need only apply themselves and stay the course,” McInnish said. “For students accepted into this program, there is a well-paying job with future opportunities available. My seniors are hired well before they graduate, and their employers have programs set-up to immediately commence further training and advancement.”

When the program started it was little more than an old plane in the school parking lot, where McInnish and his class spent the year assembling, disassembling, and reassembling the aircraft. Today, the program runs out of a state-of-the-art workshop.

“Fast forward eight years [and we have] a hangar full of aircraft and helicopters,” McInnish said.

His mission as a teacher is not just to “provide” students with lessons, but to “empower” them to unlock real-world skills and build a meaningful, lucrative career—an especially important consideration at Eau Gallie where more than half of the student body comes from economically disadvantaged families.

“As a CTE instructor, my job is easy: get students off their parents’ payroll and onto a manufacturer’s payroll,” said McInnish. “Their families are relying—sometimes solely—upon them to provide for [them].”

And McInnish’s students are indeed seeing real-world results. In May 2019, eight of his students became the first high school students in the nation to earn the National Aerospace/Aircraft Assembly certifications from ASTM International (formerly known as American Society for Testing and Materials). The program’s graduates have gone on to work in more than 20 aerospace companies, including SpaceX, Blue Origin, United Launch Alliance, L3Harris, Collins Aerospace, Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and more. And for the last four years, McInnish said, 100 percent of the program’s graduates have moved directly into an aviation job, an engineering college program, or the military.

McInnish is also the Private Pilot Ground School instructor at Eau Gallie. He provides ground school training and simulator instruction, and then releases the students for flight training. With their pilot licenses secured, he arranges further flight experience with aviation companies to help them obtain their Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) rating and jobs in the airline industry. In 2019 alone, 16 of McInnish’s students were awarded private pilot ground school certifications.

His students have even helped design and fabricate products for NASA through its Hunch program, a Project Based Learning program for high school students to get a head-start on their careers while developing real-world products for NASA. McInnish’s students have developed extravehicular wires used on space walks outside the ISS; food transport storage lockers for the ISS; and 3D-printed wheels for the Moon Mining Machine set to launch in 2025.

“Over the last eight years, I’ve taken this program from an idea to reality,” McInnish said. “My students and businesses are seeing results while the program continues to expand. I’ve eagerly shared our successes so others may follow and, as AFA National Teacher of the Year, I look forward to helping others enjoy the successes we have experienced.”

Second Place: Ty White

David Tyrel “Ty” White teaches high school chemistry and science at Wilcox High School in Wilcox, Ariz. Nominated for Teacher of the Year by AFA’s Arizona Cochise Chapter #107, White’s passion lies in bringing STEM experiences to rural schools. He is the co-founder of Industry Simulation Education (InSimEd), a nonprofit that connects aerospace engineers with students. He has sponsored students performing authentic research, the space settlement design challenge, the Racing the Sun Solar Go-Kart challenge, the Rocketry camp, the Biosphere experience, and other initiatives above and beyond his chemistry classroom. Learn more about runner-up Ty White.

Third Place: Colleen Cain

Colleen Cain is a 7th grade science teacher at Larson Middle School in Troy, Mich. She was nominated for Teacher of the Year by AFA’s Michigan Mt. Clemens “Selfridge” Chapter #179 and has been inspiring students with STEM for 18 years as a National Geographic Certified Teacher. She has helped her students grow tomatoes from the ISS through the Tomatosphere program to investigate the impact of microgravity on plant growth, and arranged for her students to meet a number of aerospace professionals, including NASA flight specialists and Space Force representatives. Learn more about second runner-up Colleen Cain.