Aviation students gain ‘higher’ education

The view of a rural town comes into sharp relief from 3,000 feet. Students learn the essentials of flight in a real-life practice. Classes are offered through the Mizzou Aviation School at Joplin Regional Airport.

The view of a rural town comes into sharp relief from 3,000 feet. Students learn the essentials of flight in a real-life practice. Classes are offered through the Mizzou Aviation School at Joplin Regional Airport.

Alexandra Nicolas

“Clear,” called Cherie Baugh, sophomore biology major, as the plane taxied toward the runway.

“That’s my favorite part,” she said.

Though an average of 10 students a year express interest in aviation training with Missouri Southern, only one or two will enroll in AV200, Basic Pilot Training.

“It’s not for the faint of heart,” said Dr. Tia Strait, dean of the school of technology.

Students train for their private pilot’s license through the Federal Aviation Administration-approved, Mizzou Aviation School for a total of 45-plus hours flight time and an additional 30-plus hours in the classroom.

“I just love it,” Baugh said. “It’s challenging and fun to know how the plane maneuvers and why.”

Students learn everything from the four forces of flight (lift, thrust, drag and weight) to communication in the air, including a phonetic alphabet. Students also gain an understanding of flight systems while using them in the air.

“You have to know what your limitations are,” said Chris Haines, flight instructor. “It’s about what the airplane can and cannot do.”

Knowing the privileges and restrictions of being a pilot, and an understanding of weather is also required.

“You have to become a weather junkie, that’s what I tell all my students,” Haines said. “You have to know what it’s safe to fly into.”

Pilots are also required to have knowledge of airspace rules, including restricted airspace and prohibited airspace.

“Anytime the president flies, there’s a bubble around him,” Haines said. “When he was here there was a 30-mile bubble.”

Baugh said students are also required to have an in-depth comprehension of the advanced instrumentation involved in flying the aircraft, as well as the comprehension of the physics of flight.

“It’s way more mental than it is physical,” she said.

Students must also have an understanding of the physical mechanics of the airplanes.

“Just learning how the engine works and the carburetor, its overwhelming,” Baugh said.

At the end of the training students are qualified to pilot a private single-engine plane, similar to the low-wing Piper airplanes they learn to fly, at anywhere from 2,000 to 5,000 feet.

“It takes a lot of dedication and commitment,” Baugh said. “It’s been a lot of work, but I love it. And I don’t even have my license yet.”

However, the training comes at no easy cost.

The average private pilot course will cost a student anywhere from $6,000 to $7,000. However, prices are personalized to each pilot because of the varying times it takes each student to complete the course.

“It came down to getting my pilot’s license or buying a house,” Haines said.

Students pay for the cost of University of Missouri-Columbia tuition for five credit hours, combined with the cost of renting a plane and fuel prices at the time.

“I’ll be honest, I’m spoiled,” Baugh said. “My great-grandmother really wants to help out with college, so that was my chance.”

Students schedule flight time with their instructor, weather permitting, and can complete the program in as little as one semester. However, students often must complete the class over two semesters due to the heavy course load.

“It depends on how hard they want to train,” Haines said. “The average is six to nine months.”

Over the course of the flight-training students learn the science behind flight as well as maneuvers with the plane.

“You learn about weather, navigation, flight process, it’s a full load,” Strait said.

After their extensive training, and before they receive their license to carry passengers, students take their first solo flight.

“By that time hopefully I’ll be where I need to,” Baugh said.

The training is highly active with students learning complex concepts, such as landing, as they practice them in the plane.

“It’s difficult to control the plane that close to the ground,” Baugh said. “But I feel pretty confident with Chris next to me with another set of controls, I think he could fix anything I screw up.”

Though acquiring a private pilot license can be difficult and costly, Haines currently has five students active in the program. Some are following a life-long dream, some plan to use flight for their businesses, while others, like Baugh, are considering flight as a career.

“I love to travel, there are all kinds of opportunities,” she said. “Anywhere I go I am excited to learn about the new place.”

Many students also go on to pursue a higher-grade pilot license, such as a commercial license, or training for a multi-engine aircraft.

Although flight lessons are a practical education for some, pilots such as Haines and aspiring pilots like Baugh just enjoy airtime.

“It’s just exhilarating knowing I have the power to lift [the plane] off the ground,” Baugh said.

Though flying may be an enjoyable career, sometimes it is just as much work as it is play.

“Every time I leave the ground it’s just exciting,” Haines said. “In the sky, you make your own roads.”