Nov 3, 2009

Aeronautics takes flight

by Matthew Coleman

The single propeller engine of the Cessna 172 Skyhawk jolted to a start and lurched forward on the runway, held in place only by the plane’s sturdy brakes. The pilot, junior Tamer Khoury, released the brake and pushed the throttle forward, giving the engine full power. The plane’s speed rapidly increased as the engine’s thrust drove Khoury into his seat. At 55 mph, he pulled back on the control column and the plane leap into the air, a perfect takeoff.

Like Khoury, Liberty’s School of Aeronautics has taken off with outstanding success in recent years. In 2002, enrolment stood at a meager seven students. Now the number exceeds 260, an 800 percent increase, according to Dean of Aeronautics Dave Young. The department also has acess to a fleet of planes.

“There is no doubt in my mind that God has chosen to bless the School of Aeronautics just as he has Liberty,” Young said. “He has provided us with outstanding faculty, staff dedicated to excellence and to providing the very best instruction and mentoring to our students.”

The aviation department officially started in 1973 as a minor degree program run by Virginia Aviation at the Lynchburg airport, according to Chairman of Aviation Ernie Rogers. Completely separate from Liberty, the program was maintained and operated by Virginia Aviation. The classes and flight training were held at Lynchburg airport.

With only a handful of students, the program was on the verge of collapse in the late 90s when Young stepped in with the help of Rogers. Under the guidance of these veteran pilots, the academic training was moved onto campus in 2002. Still using the Lynchburg airport for flight training, the move provided an academic base to help strengthen the aviation program.

Gradually, the School of Aviation began to prosper. To accommodate this growth, the department was transformed into a four year, bachelor’s degree program in 2004 and was accredited by the Federal Aviation Administration in 2007.

One of the key elements of flight instruction is time spent in the cockpit and in the air. Currently, over 100 students enrolled in the School of Aeronautics are “actively participating in flying instruction,” according to Young.

The rising number of students also meant an increased need for professors. Associate professor Kurt Reesman, the aviation department’s first full-time professor, was hired in Jan. 2005, according to Rogers. Reesman was the first of many professors to be hired.

Now, there are 36 full-time professors and flight instuctors on staff.

“Liberty’s School of Aeronautics is currently the largest flight school in the Commonwealth of Virginia and is the second largest faith-based university level flight school in the U.S.,” Young said.

Always looking to the skies for ways to improve, the School of Aeronautics is continually adding to the department and planning for the future.

This fall the School of Aeronautics incorporated helicopter training into the aviation department, making Liberty one of three universities in America that do, according to Young. It was added to give preliminary training to those students who want to join the mission field, serve in the U.S. Armed Forces or simply gain their commercial license.

“The helicopter program adds several dimensions to our program,” Young said. “It is filling a demand that exists to provide helicopter training and certification at the university.”

Flight instructor Timothy Tillman was chosen to take on the new department. Tillman received his helicopter training at Silver State Helicopters in Boise, Idaho, and he is a veteran in the Marines.

“Despite the high operating and training costs, I believe our helicopter program will continue to grow, particularly as the current economic challenges diminish,” Young said.

Looking to the future, the School of Aeronautics is planning to add several new specializations to the department such as aviation management, aircraft mechanics and air traffic controller.

“The most ambitious endeavor in which we are involved is the construction of an 88,000 square-foot facility on the Lynchburg Regional Airport which will house our flight operations, academic classes, simulator training, the aircraft mechanics training program, aircraft maintenance and future programs,” Young said.

As the School of Aeronautics continues to grow, the professors strive to keep a “small school” feel, according to Reesman. It is paramount for the students to know that their professors are not only in class for a paycheck, but because they care for them.

“(Students) are the reason we exist,” Reesman said. “Our students need to know that we know their name, we pray for them, and we care about the personal, academic and flying aspects of their lives.”

There are a lot of universities in America that teach aviation, but few of them do so in a manner that is centered on caring for the students in a godly manner, according to Reesman. Teachers are not only developing students’ knowledge in aviation, but also in godly world views and living, he said.

“All of the other aviation programs can teach (students) to fly, just like we can, but few care about their students to the level we strive to maintain,” Reesman said.

The Christian principles and extra effort put in by the aviation professors can help students in their pursuit of a degree, according to Khoury.

“I like the Christian-oriented learning here,” Khoury said. “Every instructor knows you by your name, (and they) are warm and comforting towards you. You can talk to them if you are having trouble in your life or if you do not know what you are doing, and they will help.”

Contact Matthew Coleman at mcoleman@liberty.edu.


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