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Dodge City Daily Globe - Dodge City, KS
  • Earning your wings

  •    Despite uncomfortably cold temperatures, Skyler Maxwell headed to the Dodge City Regional Airport before sunrise Friday to prepare for his first flight as a student of Dodge City Community College's helicopter pilot program.    Maxwell enrolled in the program this week after becoming i...
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  •     Despite uncomfortably cold temperatures, Skyler Maxwell headed to the Dodge City Regional Airport before sunrise Friday to prepare for his first flight as a student of Dodge City Community College's helicopter pilot program.
       Maxwell enrolled in the program this week after becoming interested in it at the Kansas State Fair last year. During the fair, he went on a flight with DCCC's business partner, Universal Helicopters Inc.
        "I just fell in love with it," Maxwell said Friday. "I want to be one of the select few that are able to fly a helicopter."
        Maxwell is now pursuing a certified flight instructor's license and is on pace to receive an associate's degree in applied science. He plans to use his degree to become a helicopter pilot for off-shore oil drilling companies.
        Maxwell and three other students will attend three-hour classes, in which they will receive ground and flight training, at least three days a week this semester.            
        Maxwell began with a one- to two-hour flight Friday covering a 20-mile radius and will advance to longer flights, such as the 50-mile trip to Garden City. 
        Dustin Suchor, director of operations for Universal, said frequent and consistent practice is key for students who want to become pilots because they can retain the information better and become more comfortable with flying.
        Students start by operating a Robinson R-22 two-seater helicopter, and they will learn how to fly the larger four-seater Robinson R-44 Raven.
        Suchor said the R-22 and R-44 are excellent aircraft for training. 
        "If you can fly a R-22, you can fly anything," he said.
        Within a few days of ground training, students take their place in the pilot's seat. After approximately 20 flight hours, they will begin solo flights.
        Suchor said that with the level of focus, skill and accuracy required for flying, the program is looking for motivated students who are serious about becoming a pilot.
        "And Skyler's got that," Suchor said. "These are the kind of students we want to train."
         Even with the high winds that often blow through Dodge City, Suchor said that weather has not been a problem. He added that the students have only been grounded a few days due to poor visibility since flights began last September.                                                                                  Flight training usually begins at 7 a.m., before winds become too strong.
        "The students correct for the weather," Suchor said. "Students out here fly in the wind. Even though it is windy, it does not impact their ability to learn. It's actually an advantage."
    Earning a pilot's license
        People interested in the program have several licensing options.
        Suchor said that some people take classes to earn their private license so they can qualify to fly a personal plane. Other students want to become full-time helicopter pilots or flight instructors, so they will complete the entire program.
    Page 2 of 2 -     "Some just want to do it as an accomplishment, but 85 percent of students are full-time, dedicated, career-minded pilots," he said.
        The Universal helicopter program gives students the opportunity to earn a private pilot's certificate, a commercial pilot's certificate, an certified flight instructor certificate or an associate's degree in applied science.
        Last summer, Dodge City Community College officials signed a two-year contract with the Arizona-based company headed by Gordon Jiroux, who has experience as a flight examiner, instructor and pilot. The flight school was started 27 years ago and now operates in four other locations: Scottsdale, Ariz.; Provo, Utah; Long Beach, Calif.; and Prescott, Ariz.
        Suchor said the program has attracted interest from people in Colorado, New Mexico, Nebraska and other surrounding states, so he expects it to grow each semester and eventually accommodate 20 or more students at a time. 
        "It's a fairly young program," he said. "I'm very ambitious and excited about the future of the program."
     
        Reach Cherise Forno at (620) 408-9931 or e-mail her at cherise.forno@dodgeglobe.com.
     
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