A Utah State University program born of need and initiated at an opportune time is producing some of tomorrow's airline pilots.
Just three years ago, a combination of factors brought about a shortage of airline pilots. The U.S. Air Force increased the length of its mandatory tour of duty for flying officers, which meant fewer former Air Force pilots were available to the airline recruiting pool.Many military-trained pilots from the Korean conflict who had become airline pilots following military service had reached the mandatory retirement age, and deregulation of airlines had brought about an increase in the number of commercial carriers and aircraft. Pilots were hard to find.
USU already had an established airframe and power-plant mechanic program. It seemed a natural expansion to provide an option for students to obtain pilot training in the USU technology program. Maurice Thomas, head of the industrial technology and education department, endorsed the expansion idea.
Logan offers multiple advantages for flight training. The airport is conveniently close to the university, variously oriented runways allow crosswind landing practice and options for student pilots.
The airport has none of the delays associated with training at many busy airports, so students spend time flying, not waiting in line for clearance to take off. Still, Cache Valley is close enough to Salt Lake International Airport so that training in a high-density air space is readily available.
Since Cache Valley is nestled between mountain ranges, in the course of their flight training, students necessarily experience mountain flying and its vagaries, an opportunity not often encountered by students of flight schools in the eastern United States.
Valley fog and seasonal inversions mean advanced pilots sometimes train in actual instrument flying conditions. Summer temperatures require awareness of dealing with heated air and less efficient aircraft performance.
USU, in cooperation with alumnus Dewey Gerrard, who is training officer for Delta Air Lines, put together a four-year program for students selecting a flight technology option.
The program, approved and overseen by the Federal Aviation Administration, would provide ground school and flight training including private pilot, commercial pilot, instrument pilot, multiengine pilot and certified flight instructor ratings.
The program, now entering its third year, is a growing success, according to Harry Heap, flight instructor and USU coordinator of pilot training.
Flight training, contracted to Logan Air Service, is carried out by a corps of 10 certified flight instructors over the four years at a cost that is approximately $10,000 below national average for equivalent training, Heap said.
The program has provided a boost to Cache/-Logan Airport activity. About 24 takeoffs and landings take place per hour with as many as 30 instructional flights a day six days a week, according to Heap. Ten to 16 hours of training take place most days, he said.
The list of new private pilots increases on almost a weekly basis in what Heap calls "an extremely accident-free" environment.
Under the FAA-regulated Part 141 flying program, standards are similar to those of the airlines and taught in the university setting.
Course outlines dictating what will be taught and how are established and approved, Heap said. Training materials that provide lesson-by-lesson outlines approved in the industry are used.
Standards of evaluation have been set and periodic checks are made to see that students meet requirements. These periodic checks, like airline pilot checkrides, are conducted in a structured impersonal manner, which allows the student to determine his or her suitability and aptitude for future rigid professional demands.
Often, alumni now flying with commuter and major airlines are brought to campus to convey what will be expected of the students when they complete the program and enter the professional flying ranks.
The program is structured to teach students to cope in crisis, according to Heap. "We think that if the student is properly trained, discipline will take over in the unexpected crisis situation. Students are instilled with the idea of being constantly relaxed, but on the alert.
"Without the level of structure maintained, cockpit discipline can suffer," he said.
"Our intent is to provide the best pilots for the best positions available, and we feel the program will do that," Heap said, adding that even if airlines reduced planes and pilot numbers, USU graduates would be competitive for any openings.
The Air Force ROTC, which offers candidates primary flight training, is also making use of the USU program because of economic advantages provided.
Students who cannot meet the requirements for employment in commercial aviation do not lose in the four-year degree program.
There is a strong business emphasis woven into the curriculum, providing opportunity for management or administration in commercial aviation.
What sort of student is attracted to the flight technology option? "We have mostly students from this area," Heap said, "but right now, queries are coming from many parts of the United States. There are few universities offering a four-year program - University of North Dakota, Illinois and Purdue have similar programs. USU is the university in the West.
"We want the student who is capable of absorbing a great deal of new material on a regular basis. That will be required as an airline pilot, where there are constant demands that pilots upgrade," Heap said.
Interest is high in the USU flight program, and student numbers are about three times those anticipated. Currently, arrangements are being made for five additional training aircraft, Heap added.