The sky’s the limit: DSU invests in new fleet of planes

DOVER — Delaware State University’s Aviation Program has a historical legacy to go along with its commitment to the skies and in training the next generation of airplane pilots.
It got some major help towards that goal recently when the Delaware Higher Education Economic Development Fund (DHEEDF) announced a $3.4 million grant to DSU to significantly expand its Aviation Program, the only one of its kind among Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
With the seed funding, Delaware State has placed an initial order for 10 Vulcanair V1.0 FAA-certified single-engine airplanes from Florida-based Ameravia Inc., Vulcanair’s aircraft distributor for the United States.
The first new airplane is expected to arrive in April. Ameravia will also be the university’s source for additional aircraft and material for maintenance support.
DSU President Wilma Mishoe was excited that the Aviation Program was able to take such a large step towards its future.
“This is an extraordinary vote of confidence in the quality and significance of our program and in its importance to Delaware and to the aviation industry nationwide,” President Mishoe said. “This grant allows us to move forward with plans to first replace our current aircraft fleet, and then double it over the next decade.”
She noted that DSU’s Aviation Program not only boasts 100 percent career placement of its student pilots within a year of graduation, but is also “the largest producer of pilots and aviation professionals of color in the country.”
Between construction and new positions for mechanics, flight instructors and support staff, DSU anticipates the creation of hundreds of new jobs in the Greater Kent County area over the next few years.
Dr. Tony Allen, provost and executive vice president of DSU, said the expansion of the Aviation Program is more than just replacing the school’s old fleet of planes.
“Our proposal also contributes to building a broader, better economic vitality in Greater Kent County,” said Dr. Allen. “Growing our Aviation Program requires increases in aircraft service and significant enlargement of our hangar space at the Delaware Air Park in Cheswold.
“Equally important is the opportunity to develop deeper relationships with the local aviation industry, Dover Air Force Base and the Delaware River and Bay Authority.”
DSU also has visions of buying at least one more plane a year over the next decade, for a total of up to 20 new aircraft for the program.
The new aircraft will allow students to train on the latest all-glass avionics’ cockpit technology used by airlines and in corporate aviation.
DSU operates its’ pilot instruction program out of Delaware Airpark in Cheswold, about three miles north of the university.
Rep. Debra Heffernan, co-chair of the DHEEDF and the Bond Bill Committee, was impressed by what DSU’s Aviation Program has accomplished.
“We’re proud to support the university in the continued improvement of its Aviation Program,” Rep. Heffernan said. “We were very impressed by the quality of the university’s program and its graduates, making this a smart investment for Delaware.”
Upgrading its fleet
Retired Lt. Col. Michael Hales, director of Delaware State’s Aviation Program, was extremely happy when he was informed that the university was going to be moving from its’ current fleet of 10 Piper single- and twin-engine airplanes.
He said the overall package that Ameravia offered DSU was too good to pass up.
“The price of the (Vulcanair) V1.0 was one obvious reason to change our fleet, but it also came down to the logic of the package Ameravia created,” Mr. Hales said. “The parts logistics package putting parts in our hangar on consignment until needed will help keep our planes in the air.
“The choice of the G500 avionics is cost effective but still everything we need. Their choice of a Flight Data Recorder that downloads flight and engine data through the cloud should work well for our instructors, students and maintenance staff.
“It’s a great package.”
The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association reported on Nov. 1 that Vulcanair’s marketing plan was to aim its high-wing, four-seat, three-door, steel-tube-and-aluminum airplane powered by a Lycoming O-360 180-horsepower engine at the flight-training market, leveraging the airplane’s $278,000 retail price, which is about $100,000 less than competing models.
“These aircraft will serve as the workhorses of our fleet and will allow our students to train on the latest all glass avionics’ cockpit technology, familiar to and used by airlines and in corporate aviation,” DSU officials said in a joint new release with Ameravia, Vulcanair’s U.S. distributor. “This will ultimately better prepare our students for success as they enter the aviation industry as a professional pilot.”
Mr. Hales believes the addition of the new aircraft will help Delaware State expand its Aviation Program’s student enrollment from around the 100 or so currently enrolled to 500 within five years.
He said the timing is perfect because there is currently a shortage of commercial pilots in the United States.
“The airlines are desperate for pilots,” said Mr. Hales. “We want to be a major conduit of highly qualified aviators for them.”
Students involved in Delaware State’s Aviation Program graduate with a commercial pilot certificate and a multi-engine rating, a flight instructor certificate, and a bachelor’s degree.
“All the graduates of our FAA-Approved Part 141 Aviation program get hired into a professional pilot job leading to a career in aviation within 12 months of graduation,” Mr. Hales said.
Graduates of Delaware State’s Aviation Management Program are qualified to fill air traffic control positions or to be hired by regional and major airline companies, in corporate aviation, and for airport administration careers.
“I’m hoping they’re going to be the first of many of their generations to come (to DSU) to enjoy aviation, get a chance to fly, and fill up the ranks of corporate, regional and major airlines,” John Sherman, chief pilot at DSU, told AOPALive.
DSU has history of flying
In 1939, the United States government funded and introduced the Civilian Pilot Training Act (CPTA). The CPTP’s purpose was to train around 20,000 pilots each year to prepare for the possibility of a global conflict.
To recruit as many potential pilots as possible, the program accepted African Americans and women, providing them with opportunities in aviation. Pioneering black fliers campaigned hard for public awareness of their abilities, and their efforts paid off with an anti-discrimination rule within the CPTP — a landmark in racial equality for blacks in aviation.
Then-Delaware State College was one of the six Historically Black Colleges chosen to participate in the program.
In May 1940, the first student-graduates of the CPTP completed their instruction, before the program of flight training for black students at the various schools was consolidated to Moton Field near Tuskegee Institute in Alabama.
Moton Field gave necessary training for the candidates to continue to the Tuskegee Army Air Field to finish their flight training with the Army Air Corps and become pilots.
From that point on, all the graduates of CPTP at Moton Field were commonly referred to as “Tuskegee Airmen.” The Tuskegee Airmen have one of the most famous histories of any one military unit.
“We have students from our small college that were a part of that original group of Tuskegee Airmen,” said Mr. Hales. “So, we celebrate that by painting our aircraft tails ‘Tuskegee Red’ (like the Tuskegee Airmen did).”
In 1987, due to the vision of the late Dr. Daniel E. Coons, the Aviation Program was re-established at DSU.
For many of those early years, Dr. Coons spent thousands of dollars of his own money to fund student tuition, flight-training fees, countless hours of his time and efforts to help students achieve the goal of being a professional pilot.
“The Aviation Program has been a dream come true for me, and this is a wonderful legacy to leave behind, hopefully forever,” Dr. Coons said in February 2016.
Sen. Dave Sokola, who co-chairs the Bond Bill Committee that oversees the DHEEDF, believes Delaware State is on its way even greater accomplishments in the skies.
“This unique program separates Delaware State University from most other institutions of higher education nationwide,” Sen. Sokola said.
He pointed out that the program is one of the least expensive in the nation, and a major provider of highly qualified “pilots, air traffic controllers, and aviation administrators” making it a premier source of minority aviation professionals for regional and national airlines.

Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at mfinney@newszap.com.

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