Oct 14, 2008

Helicopter debuts on Liberty's landing pad

by Daniel Martinez

 Just over four miles from the Liberty University campus, the Falwell Airport now sports the newest piece of the school’s legacy — the Schweitzer-300, a 37-foot-long white helicopter. The very presence of this machine ushers Liberty into an exclusive fraternity: aviation schools that offer instruction and flight training for both airplanes and helicopters.

Junior Tom Vonolszewski, one of just two Liberty students in line to take rotary wing (helicopter) flying instruction this semester — and the only student yet to have experience piloting the Schweitzer-300 — thinks flight instruction for both types of aircraft is “something diverse.”

For School of Aeronautics Chairman Ernie Rogers, who spent years flying helicopters for the US Navy, “it has always been a passion for me to start a rotary wing concentration for our program.”

That passion has led to the expansion of Liberty’s aviation program with rotary wing instruction alongside classes for fixed-wing aircraft, a trait Liberty now shares with Arizona’s Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and the University of North Dakota.
Vonolszewski realizes having rotary wing instruction gives extra options to potential Liberty aviation students. “You have a certain number of people who want to fly fixed wing, and you’re going to get even more because certain people probably only want to fly helicopters,” he said.

In fact, Tim Tillman, Liberty’s newly-appointed Rotorcraft Instructor, has never flown a fixed-wing aircraft, Vonolszewski said.
Tillman, the Liberty Journal reports, moved to Lynchburg from Idaho upon his hiring, and has started flying with Vonolszewski as well as John Milko, a local resident interested in flying who does not attend Liberty. He has also begun looking into the classroom instructions all aviation students will receive.

“The fixed-wing ground classes are being looked at to incorporate the Rotorcraft specific aspects of ground training,” Tillman said.
Such aspects include learning the length of the helicopter, the maximum weight under which it can fly (1,755 pounds), its weight when empty (1,155 pounds) and the fact that a pilot needs at least 50 square feet of open space to land soundly.

The Schweitzer’s flight cruising speed is 70 knots (77 miles per hour), something sophomore Chase Bishop needs to learn before his own flying lessons begin, making him the second Liberty student, after Vonolszewski, to fly rotary wing with the new program.“I love being in the air,” Bishop said, looking forward to his upcoming flight instruction. “I especially love helicopters because you can land just about anywhere you want. You can hover. You can fly close to the ground.”

The flying lessons serve other aviation classes in the same way a lab serves science classes at Liberty. While basic aviation classes such as Aviation Aerodynamics are soon to begin including details specific to rotary wing aircraft, Vonolszewski and Bishop have to pay $325 per hour of flight time. This, Vonolszewski said, is due to the necessity of having the instructor on hand as copilot, as well as the complexity of helicopter maintenance, which surpasses that of fixed-wing aircraft ($197 per hour of flight time).

The first helicopter-specific, basic aviation course, Rotary Wing Operations, will begin next semester, Rogers said.

However, Liberty students interested in getting a chance to ride in the helicopter can pay $125 for what Rogers calls “discovery flights.”

Helicopter training at Liberty may just be taking off, but some aspects have already left an impression on Vonolszewski.

“I learned that you have to make very small corrections,” he said of flying the Schweitzer. “If you’re drifting forward but you want to stay still, only make a small correction (on the controls), then come back to neutral rather than making large adjustments.” He contrasted this with piloting an airplane, where considerable force on the controls is often needed to steer.

For Bishop, who can already fly airplanes, the helicopter lessons are imperative to his hopes for the future. As a member of the Reserve Officer Training Corps, he plans to fly Apache attack helicopters for the army and later transition into missionary work, corporate flight or life flights (emergency flights to hospitals for extremely sick or injured people).

“Being life-flighted saved my life,” Bishop said. “I was only two, but that was my first ride ever in a helicopter. In this way, I could give back what saved my life to so many others.”

Goals such as Bishop’s are now possibilities for Liberty aviation students, who no longer have to look elsewhere for exclusive rotary wing training that is the newest feature of Liberty’s ever-growing School of Aeronautics.


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