Student pilots touch down at UA

Flying is in Jonathan Henley’s blood – both his grandfather and father were pilots. His father is a part of the Aeroshell Aerobatic Team, a team that does airshows all over North America. But when he was just a kid, Henley associated flying with fear. It terrified him, and when Henley’s father first told him to get in a plane, Henley ran away crying.

“As a kid, you’d take one look at me and say, ‘He’d never fly,’” Henley said. “I remember my dad caught me though and strapped me into that cargo plane, and now I am the one who has taken it on.”

When he was 12-years-old, Henley’s father gave him a log book. With nine years of practice and more than 500 hours of flight time, Henley has more experience than most pilots his age, but he said he still has a lot to learn.

Henley climbed into a Boeing PT-17 Stearman airplane and prepared for his first solo flight when he was 16-years- old, a moment he described as emotional. His dad watched him do the series of takeoffs and landings and told Henley he was good to go.

“I saw the caliber that my dad flies at, and I wanted to be him,” Henley said. “I was always comparing myself to him, so really I thought I was awful and didn’t have a future in aviation.”

Henley, now a junior majoring in mechanical engineering, is one of the few pilots on campus. A member of ROTC, he plans to join the Air Force after graduation. He said flying planes is not something a lot of people do.

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“It’s something I don’t get to talk about too much,” Henley said. “Aviation is something that not too many people can relate to or feel as passionate about it as I am.”

The number of pilots is dwindling, according to aviation journal Aviation International News published an article in May 2013 on the decreasing interest in the field. Also, according to a survey at the University of North Dakota Aviation Department, 32 percent of students are reconsidering their plans of becoming an airline pilot.

Flying is not a common career path, but for some students, the interest is still there.

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Joseph Olmstead, a freshman majoring in aerospace engineering, is also a pilot on campus. He has been flying for almost four years, and has noticed the decreasing number of pilots.

“It’s surprisingly low right now,” he said. “And I think in the next few years, pilots will be in high demand.”

Olmstead attributed the decrease to low pilot wages and the high cost of the training required. However, Olmstead said he still loves flying and plans to use it in conjunction with his major after graduation.

Ryan Glosson, a freshman majoring in aerospace engineering, received flying lessons as a Christmas present his junior year of high school. He said he likes flying because of the challenge it presents.

“It was hard,” he said. “I really like the challenge, and it’s unique. Not a lot of people fly planes.”

Unlike Henley, Glosson did not grow up in an aviation family. His parents sold real estate, and though his dad always wanted to learn to fly, he never could because of his eyes. Glosson was able to live out his dream and get his pilot’s license.

For him, he said, there is something about being in the air, something that makes him wish he could do it more often. Glosson runs track for the University, so he does not get to fly as often as he would like, but he said he hopes to be able to use his license more after he graduates.

“There is something about being up there by yourself,” he said. “It’s just peaceful, and you see things in a different way. You see things that most people don’t see.”

Alabama does not offer an aviation major like Auburn’s professional flight management program. However, students interested in majoring in aviation management could potentially create it through New College.

At least, that’s what Logan Wolf did. Wolf is a senior who created his major in professional aviation through New College. His interest in flying began as a child.

“It was something I was passionate about as a kid, and I just never grew out of it,” Wolf said.

Wolf worked with his advisor to set up contracts and worked with professional pilots from Birmingham and Tuscaloosa in the field to carry out the contracts. New College offered Wolf opportunities he would not have found at a flight school.

“It gave me the opportunity to continue training and advance much faster than in a university.”

Most students who graduate from a university program may finish with between 250 and 300 hours of flight time, Wolf said. When Wolf graduates, he will have more than 2,000 hours of flight time and plenty of job opportunities. He currently has a job as a flight instructor, and he also flies by contract for companies.

Kiersten Koenig is a freshman and is currently applying to New College to create an aviation management major. Koenig said she does not know yet what her coursework will look like. Her interest in flying began somewhat spontaneously. Koenig said one day decided that she would like to fly airplanes. It was after she began pursing flying that she discovered her grandfather used to fly.

“You could say I inherited the desire, I guess,” she said.

Koenig’s grandfather bought an airplane after deciding that he would like to fly again. In eighth grade, Koenig began taking lessons. She does not have her pilot’s license yet, but hopes to one day finish the training.

Each pilot said they were not very aware of other pilots their age in the area. Olmstead has looked for some, and heard of a few other students, but he has not been in contact with many.

Wolf said he started an organization on campus called Capstone Aviation, but because he was so busy flying and taking classes, he did not have time to follow up with the group. Henley said he knew of a few through ROTC, but they were not very active pilots. Koenig knows of one friend back home on campus, but has not met any other student pilots on campus yet.

“I’d like to start an informal group, maybe a Facebook page or something, for pilots at Alabama,” Olmstead said.

He also said it would be exciting to see Alabama get a flight program and even have a competitive flying team.

“I think it would be a lot of fun, and if anything, it would be great PR,” he said. “It might be a great marketing technique for the school and a really cool way to involve more students.”

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