Clarksville, TN – In Clarksville, it’s not unusual to see military aircraft flying over town, but next year, a new bachelor’s degree program at Austin Peay State University will put a few civilian helicopters into the local sky.
That’s because the University is in the final approval stages of a Bachelor of Science degree in Aviation Science, with a concentration in rotor wing (helicopters), beginning next fall. The program will be the first rotor-wing flight school attached to a bachelor’s degree in the state.
In November, the Tennessee Higher Education Commission approved the new degree, but the program still needs the endorsement of the Federal Aviation Administration and approval by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).
In the meantime, the University is moving forward with preparations to launch the degree program as soon as it is approved, thanks to a recent $175,000 Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) grant. The TDOT Aeronautics Economic Development Fund is meant to “impact job creation and investment opportunities in Tennessee’s aviation industry.”
In January, the agency awarded six grants—five to airport authorities across the state, and one to APSU.
“We were the only institution of higher learning to get that grant, and the money will be used to buy our first helicopter simulator,” Dr. Karen Meisch, interim dean of the APSU College of STEM, said.
In the coming months, the University will hire a program director and chief helicopter pilot, in addition to acquiring three helicopters—two Guimbal Cabri G2s and a Robinson R44. The program will be housed at the Austin Peay Center at Fort Campbell, with flight training taking place at the Clarksville Regional Airport, also known as Outlaw Field.
The bachelor’s degree will help veterans, Fort Campbell pilots transitioning out of the military, and civilians pursue competitive careers with air medical service contractors, such as LifeFlight, oil and gas companies in need of offshore transportation and numerous other employers.
Last summer, Vertical Magazine—a helicopter industry publication—reported that U.S. Customs and Border Protection was hiring helicopter pilots “in a big way.” According to the magazine, the federal agency has “approximately 550 pilot positions,” but that “doesn’t take into account additional positions that may be authorized in the coming years.”
Graduates of the APSU program will be better prepared for these jobs because of the way the University has structured the curriculum.
“As you earn this degree, you earn four FAA certifications: private helicopter, commercial helicopter, flight instructor I and flight instructor II,” Meisch said. “That’s what makes this better than just going to a flight school. They (a flight school) would focus on earning one of those four things at a time. At Austin Peay, you earn those four certifications and a bachelor’s degree. And the job market is calling more and more for that degree.”
The program also caters to pilots with years of flying experience, particularly military pilots from Fort Campbell.
“Flight training is calculated by the hour,” Dr. Kristine Nakutis, executive director of the Austin Peay Center at Fort Campbell, said. “If students meet the standards, they may not have to pay for the additional training time. We will review prior flight experience, licensure, and skills for academic credit to reduce student cost and meet degree completion sooner.”