NACOGDOCHES, Texas (KTRE) – The SFA’s aviation science curriculum is literally taking off.
This month, the inaugural class began flying planes at AL Mangham Airport.
The first student in the air has big ambitions for herself and the new graduation project.
“Make sure the plane is in great shape,” recalls chief flight instructor Jack Gainer, SFA rookie Olivia Benson. This is probably a lesson she will use several times.
“Flying abroad has always been a dream of mine to travel. And to be able to fly a plane, if I can do it, I’m going to do it, ”said Benson, the first Flying Jack to take the runway and fly.
Benson is one of 21 SFA students attending the inaugural launch of Aviation Sciences, a public-private partnership with HCH Aviation, based in Nacogdoches.
“The philosophy of this for us is to crawl, walk, run,” said co-owner Shannon Conklin. Let’s get into it, but we go from about 20 to 25 kids in the first year. We will hopefully increase it from 200 to over 200 when the program begins to mature.
The City of Nacogdoches supplies the airport. An HCH partnership with Piper Aircraft provides brand new aircraft. HCH also provides the instructors.
“We currently only have one type of aircraft. We have the Piper Pilot, ”said Gainer. “And we’re looking at our next level which should be a multi-engine aircraft. And then we are studying a possible third type of aircraft to complete the fleet.
A hangar, currently under construction, will be leased to Kerry Pruitt, commercial pilot of Nacogdoches.
Holders of an aviation science degree will graduate with FAA certification.
“We teach them from day one how to be a professional aviator, commercial pilot and how to become a flight instructor,” said Gainer.
Benson recognizes the opportunity before her.
“I know that a lot of pilots have retired, forced retirement, because of the covid. It’s unfortunate, but it opens up huge windows for me, ”Benson said. “Also, being a woman in the industry is going to help a lot.”
Benson and the others are ready to take off.
“I am proud to be the SFA’s first official flying student and will carry this name as best I can.”
The aviation flight training program is open to college and non-college students, as well as those who do not wish to earn a bachelor’s degree.
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