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SFA Aviation Science program takes flight with private enterprise help

Published: Sep. 10, 2021 at 6:39 PM CDT
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NACOGDOCHES, Texas (KTRE) - The SFA Aviation Science degree program is literally taking off.

This month the inaugural class began piloting aircraft at the A.L. Mangham Airport.

The first student in the air has high ambitions for herself and the new degree plan.

“Make sure the aircraft is in really good shape,” chief flight instructor Jack Gainer calmly reminds SFA freshman Olivia Benson. It’s likely a lesson she will use many more times.

“Flying internationally 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 to the runway and into the air.

Benson is one of 21 SFA students in the aviation science inaugural launch, a public-private partnership with Nacogdoches-based HCH Aviation.

“The philosophy from this for us is to crawl, walk, run,” said co-owner Shannon Conklin. Let’s get established, but we’re scaling up from about 20 to 25 kids in the first year. We’ll scale that up from hopefully at 200 to 200 plus when the program begins to mature.”

The City of Nacogdoches provides the airport. An HCH partnership with Piper Aircraft provides brand new planes. HCH provides the instructors, as well.

“We currently have one type of aircraft. We have the Piper Pilot,” said Gainer. “And we are looking into our next level which should be a multi-engine aircraft. And then we’re looking at a possible third type of aircraft to supplement the fleet.”

One hanger, now under construction, will be leased from Nacogdoches commercial pilot Kerry Pruitt.

Aviation science degree holders will graduate with FAA certification.

“We’re teaching them from day one how to become a professional aviator, a commercial pilot and how to become a flight instructor,” explained Gainer.

Benson recognizes the opportunity before her.

“I know a lot of pilots have retired, forced retirement, because of covid. That’s unfortunate, but it opens huge windows for me,” said Benson. “And also, being a female in the industry is going to help a lot.”

Benson and others are ready for take-off.

“I’m proud to be the first official SFA flight student and I will wear that name the best that I can.”

The aviation flight training program is open to collegiate and non-collegiate students, as well as to those not interested in earning a bachelor’s degree.

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