Tuesday, September 27, 2005

The Robert C. Byrd National Aerospace Center will soon be the home of Fairmont State's Flying Falcons -- planes that student pilots will use in their flight training that will provide competitive opportunities for them as they seek their degrees.

"We're just so excited to see the growth in the flight training program at Fairmont State Community & Technical College. We started with 10 students two years ago and we're now at 40," said Blair Montgomery, FSC&TC President.

FSC&TC now has the distinction of being the only higher education institution in the state to offer professional flight training. Students in any two- or four-year degree option at Fairmont State may also enroll to earn private pilot and instrument certifications. Three-credit ground school classes are taught two evenings a week during the semester, and all flight labs are planned around the student's schedule.

The planes, three 172 Cessnas and one 172 Cessna RG, are being leased from Christiansan Aviation in Tulsa, Okla. The first two aircraft were delivered to the NAEC on Saturday, Sept. 25, by Fairmont State flight instructors and professional flight majors Steve Casciola and David Kelley. The third airplane will be delivered to the center on Saturday, Oct.1, and the fourth airplane is expected to arrive on Saturday, Oct. 8. A fifth airplane, a Piper Seminole twin-engine, which can be used for multi-engine training, is expected to arrive some time after the first of the year.

"I joke when I say we have the largest college Air Force in West Virginia, but we are the only college in West Virginia that offers these programs," Montgomery said.

Pieter Blood, NAEC Director, said arrangements have been made for FSC&TC to lease a total of seven planes depending on the level of enrollment in the pilot training program. Blood said an additional 17 pilots were enrolled in training this semester. He anticipates the program to grow by 15-20 students next year.

"This program's enrollment tends to follow the employment trends in the industry," Blood said.

Under the former lease arrangement with Albatross Air, based in Beckley, W.Va., FSC&TC was flying under that flight contractor's certificate. Under the new lease agreement with Christensen Aviation, the college will have its own FAA Part 141 certification. Future plans include establishing the Flying Falcons Precision Flight Team that will participate in national flying competitions.

"That also means we will be doing our own aircraft maintenance and scheduling. This gives us the ability to better control the use of our aircraft," Blood said."It's going to be an all-together better situation for us."

Students seeking Fairmont State's Bachelor of Science in Aviation Technology degree can choose programs that will prepare them for careers as commercial pilots, aviation maintenance managers or in aviation administration management. Blood said key employment opportunities for graduates of the program include jobs with regional airlines and as flight instructors.

The Robert C. Byrd National Aerospace Education Center, a state-of-the-art facility dedicated to aerospace education, is located in the Mid-Atlantic Aerospace Complex at the Harrison-Marion Regional Airport in Bridgeport. The NAEC offers degree programs in the following aerospace specialty areas: Associate in Applied Science in Aviation Maintenance Technology, Associate in Applied Science in Airframe and Aerospace Electronics, Bachelor in Science in Aviation Maintenance Management, Bachelor in Science in Avionics Maintenance Management, Bachelor in Science in Aviation Administration and Bachelor in Science in Aviation Administration and Professional Flight.