Growing Need for Aerospace Workers Inspires Opportunities for Students

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There is an increasing need for pilots and other workers in the aerospace industry, which is bringing lots of growth to local businesses and organizations involved in the industry, including Middle Tennessee State University.

“About five years ago the shortage became apparent,” said Wendy Beckman, Chair of the Aerospace Department at Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU). “Lots of Baby Boomers are retiring, and there has been a lot of expansion since 2009.”

The MTSU program has grown by 67% in the last four years, not only for pilots, but also in maintenance technology, dispatch, and aerospace management.

Beckman says that it is best if kids interested in becoming a pilot work towards a private license before heading to MTSU to make sure that they are really interested, as it is an expensive investment. Lessons can run $200 per hour. So, you need to totally love it.

Teaching Kids About Flight

Murfreesboro’s Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) offers Young Eagle Flights for kids to see if they love to fly. The flights are totally free.

“We do the Young Eagle’s every three months,” says EAA chapter president, Robbie Mackie. “The chapter picks a date and time, weather permitting. I talk about the plane, what makes it fly, and answer any questions they may have. I talk about all the instruments, and what they do. I like to let the older ones [sit] in the front seat and let them fly the plane if they want to….”

The EAA has flown over 2.2 million kids in their Young Eagle Program nationally to introduce them to aviation. The Murfreesboro, Tennessee Chapter has flown about 3,000 of the 2.2 million children. David Swindler has flown over 1,300 of those 3,000.

“Over the years I have come across a few airline pilots who have asked me, ‘Do you remember me? You gave me my first ride!’,” said Swindler. “…I gave a Young Eagle ride to a church member’s son. That son became a flight instructor, and now he has his own commuter airline. There are similar, great success stories. Just an airplane ride gives a kid a vision of what can be…Success is attributed to pilots and plane owners who will take the time and money to give a kid a free ride.”

Where to Take Flying Lessons

If a child is interested in aviation, there are two local flight schools in the county that offer classes and Discovery Flights – Wings of Eagles and Murfreesboro Aviation.

Wings of Eagles started as a small flight school in 1998, and Murfreesboro Aviation, which was purchased by Jim Gardner in 2010, expanded in 2013 by adding a successful airplane maintenance business. According to their website, to accommodate the growth of the maintenance business, Jim has continued to add mechanics and technicians. “…[T]he overwhelming majority of our mechanics are pilots and aircraft owners,” said Gardner.

Wings of Eagles has provided professional flight training for more than sixteen years, having expanded to three locations in Middle Tennessee. They are partners with Corporate Flight Management, one of the largest charter companies in the Eastern United States.

Heading Towards an Aerospace Career

According to Beckman, the growth that both companies are seeing has been seen all around the country, and has allowed MTSU to expand their offerings. They have seventeen full-time faculty members and 75 flight instructors. One of the instructors is Steve Reeves, a retired pilot.

“Being a pilot is the best job in the world!” says Reeves. “… However, that’s not to say it’s easy. There’s a lot of schooling involved in becoming an airline pilot. I have to know everything about the aircraft I’m flying: how its systems operate, the aircraft’s limitations, airline policy and procedures. In addition, I need to fully comprehend and follow federal laws regarding operating in the nation’s airspace system. Also, as a captain, I was required to complete re-qualification training every six months in the flight simulator to prove my skills in normal operations and emergency procedures. Along with the flight simulator events, I was also required to spend a day in ground school in order to receive training on updates to safety, security, and flight operations. Teaching is my way of giving back to the industry.”

Reeves firmly believes that you can teach just about anybody the physical part of flying an aircraft, but it takes a certain type of person to grasp the mental skills necessary to assume responsibility for the efficient operation of a multi-million-dollar aircraft and the safety of hundreds of people sitting behind the cockpit door. That takes the kind of love that Beckman talks about. But if the love is there, the opportunities are endless, and the training is available right here in Rutherford County.