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Liberty News

LU pilots in Cessna's Top Hawk program start tour of U.S. Friday

June 25, 2015 : Liberty University News Service

Liberty military veteran student Phil McLanahan and flight instructor Jonny Hewitt.

Liberty University School of Aeronautics military student Phil McLanahan and flight instructor Jonny
Hewitt will fly this Cessna Skyhawk nationwide over the next three months in the Top Hawk program.

A flight instructor and a military aviation student from Liberty University’s School of Aeronautics (LUSOA) will depart this Friday on a three-month, 34-stop, 8,500-mile tour of the United States as part of Cessna’s Top Hawk program.

Jonny Hewitt and Phil McLanahan will be flying a Cessna Skyhawk 172 to promote LUSOA’s rapidly expanding Flight Training Affiliate (FTA) programs. Liberty was selected as a partner school for Cessna's inaugural Top Hawk program along with Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Kansas State University, and the University of North Dakota. Through the Top Hawk program, Liberty has been given full use of a branded Skyhawk aircraft for the remainder of 2015 for flight training, recruiting, and promotional activities.

Hewitt, a flight instructor and social media manager for LUSOA, and McLanahan, a military veteran student who also works as an aviation mechanic for Freedom Aviation, Lynchburg Regional Airport’s Fixed Base Operator (FBO), will fly out of Lynchburg. The team’s first stop is Fairhope, Ala., terminus for the Air Race Classic, an annual competition for women pilots featuring two tandems of the Liberty Belles, Liberty’s female flight team. The 55-team, 2,400-mile air race started Monday at Stafford Regional Airport in Fredericksburg, Va., and Liberty's two planes were among the 25 to reach their destination on Wednesday.

The aim of Cessna’s Top Hawk program is to promote university aviation programs and connect future pilots to higher education, showcase internship opportunities for flight instructors, and support discovery flights and Learn to Fly programs. Of the 34 stops on Liberty’s tour, 32 are at flight schools, 25 of which are formally approved FTA locations. Seven of the 34 are in final processing and expected to be approved soon.

“They will be promoting Liberty’s online degree program to many perspective attendees, including high school dual enrollees (through Liberty Online Academy), recent high school graduates, career switchers, and military veterans,” said Brian Hough, director of business development and affiliate operations for Liberty’s FTA program.

The Top Hawk program is another example of Liberty’s growing relationship with Cessna. Last week, Liberty hosted the annual Global Cessna Pilot Center (CPC) Conference, a seminar for leaders and staff of Textron Aviation's Cessna Pilot Centers across the country. In April, 2014, the LUSOA reached an agreement with Cessna to provide an affiliate flight training program for its qualifying CPCs at airports across the country. Last August, Liberty received the 10,000th single-engine aircraft from Textron Aviation’s Independence, Kan., facility, one of three Cessna Skyhawks added to its growing fleet.

“The Liberty University School of Aeronautics has, in a few short years, been recognized as one of the top collegiate aviation programs in the country,” said Dave Young, Liberty’s assistant provost for aeronautics education. “This tour is a tremendous opportunity to inform young people of the incredible career opportunities that are available in aviation and to offer them the chance to realize their dreams to fly through programs like the LUSOA. We are honored that Textron Aviation selected us to represent them in the Top Hawk initiative.” 

The logo of the Top Hawk competition, sponsored by Textron Aviation.

The first leg of the tour will also include a weeklong stop in Oshkosh, Wis., site of the EAA AirVenture airshow from July 20-26, before returning to Lynchburg on July 30. The final two legs will be shorter in distance. The team will fly to Georgia and Florida, Aug. 6-20, and to Pennsylvania and several locations in Virginia, Aug. 29-Sept. 27. All sections of the tour will start and end in Lynchburg to assure that maintenance from Freedom Aviation is readily available.

Hewitt will be shooting video and photos and updating Liberty SOA’s Facebook page throughout the tour.

"We are both very excited to represent Liberty University and Cessna during this upcoming trip,” Hewitt said. “The Top Hawk tour really is the chance of a lifetime, not only to fly all over the United States, but to help share our passion for aviation with many prospective students across the country. Everyone remembers their first flight, and I cannot wait to share that excitement with others as we provide discovery flights at each of the Flight Training Affiliates.”

McLanahan, who has been a pilot for 20 years, said this will be his first opportunity to tour the country to promote aviation.

“I’m very thankful for the opportunity to plant the seed of aviation in the lives of the next generation,” he said. “It is very exciting to see the growth of the School of Aeronautics through the partnerships we have with our Flight Training Affiliates, and I look forward to representing Cessna and Liberty University throughout the tour.”

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