While the majority of college students’ class time is spent in a classroom listening to lectures, students in the Trojan Aviation Program get to fly with their instructors over the city of Troy and surrounding areas.
“It’s basically passing down a legacy,” said Robert McCabe, the director/operations manager and chief flight officer. “If I had to start all over again, I’d want to be a pilot.
“There’s nothing else I’d rather be. When you retire from that, there’s a sense of wanting to give back.”
McCabe, a 1976 Troy graduate, served in the Marines for over 20 years then worked as a contract pilot overseas, accruing over 18,000 hours of flight time as a pilot of both airplanes and helicopters.
According to McCabe, the United States will soon face a shortage of pilots. He said that a university program is one of the main things that will produce a future generation of aviators.
“It’s a great way to end an aviation career — to go back to the basics and teach future aviators,” McCabe said.
Just a little over a year old, the program offers a minor in aviation operations of either fixed wing (airplane) or rotary wing (helicopter) concentrations.
Ashley Bloodworth, a freshman undeclared major from Panama City, said her interest was piqued in the fixed wing program by a desire to travel and see the world. She said she had flown only a couple of times before she joined.
“It’s definitely exciting — you get a little nervous, you know, just like being in the plane,” Bloodworth said. “It’s a lot at first, but you definitely get used to it.
“Everyone’s been really great and helpful, making me comfortable and helping me out.”
Bloodworth said she especially enjoys seeing the world from a different perspective while flying above it.
Dalton Adair, a sophomore criminal justice major from Vestavia Hills, is the only full-time rotary wing student in the program.
“Helicopters are a lot different — I mean, you can go anywhere, land anywhere,” Adair said. “There’s always something interesting.
“I just love being up in the air. Every day flying is another great day.”
According to Scott Lee, the chief quality assurance officer, students fly a total of about 200-250 hours in the program and are then tested by the Federal Aviation Administration for their final exam.
As for how connected they are to Troy’s main campus, Lee said, “We’re kind of our own entity. We’re definitely trying to work on that relationship so that it (the program) can grow.”
Lee said they hope to broaden the program, which currently has 15 students.
Joshua Coggins, director of maintenance, said they rarely have problems with aircraft.
“I’ve been in aviation for 20 years now,” Coggins said. “I share the knowledge every chance I get.
“The goal is safety. As long as you can put that first, you won’t have any problems.”
For Bloodworth’s instructional flight on Tuesday, Flight Instructor Micah Thompson accompanied her.
“My goal is for (each student) to become a competent, safe pilot,” Thompson said.
Thompson said he has been in situations with students where things have gone wrong, whether it’s a loss of communication or electricity, but the students performed well under pressure, remaining calm.
Thompson said he enjoys teaching students who show a genuine desire to be in the program.
“They do all the self-study and constantly come prepared,” Thompson said.
At the end of 10 nine-week terms, students will not only have completed their minors but will also be certified flight instructors (CFI), which allows them to train students in single-engine aircrafts, and certified flight instructors-instruments (CFII), which allows them to train students for their instrument rating. This allows them to fly under Instrument Flight Rules.
McCabe said the goal is to equip students for instructing by the end of sophomore year so that they can work for Trojan Aviation as they build up their flight time before reaching the “magic number” of 1,000 hours to get an interview for a professional job.
According to McCabe, it is a demanding program in that for every hour students fly, they have to study three hours for the next flight. There is only pass or fail — no curve.
Though Troy’s institutional scholarships do apply to the program, it is not authorized through Veterans Affairs for students to use money from the GI Bill to pay for it.
There are currently 15 students enrolled in the program, but McCabe expects to have 25 by August 2018.