DCCC Flight Instructor Program Takes Off
This summer, the Dodge City Community College Flight Instructor program is boasting its largest enrollment ever at its Chandler, Ariz., location. The program, which is in its 13th year, is readying itself for more than 50 students.
“DCCC’s goal in developing this Flight Instructor degree program has been simply to design the best collegiate helicopter training program in the United States,” Dr. Adam John, DCCC provost, said.
“In doing so, DCCC has consulted with and continues to work closely with some of the most experienced helicopter flight training organizations in the world,” he said. “These relationships have been not only helpful to DCCC’s course development, but have also helped to give DCCC program graduates a real advantage in job placement and career development within the helicopter industry.”
The two-year Associate of Applied Science (AAS) degree program, which is taught in five semesters, is a comprehensive program of study that has been specifically designed to take students with no aviation experience through their Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Commercial Pilot and Flight Instructor qualification, with the completion of the AAS degree, John said.
In addition, the program is taught fully in-house, which means all classes—including flight classes—are taught by DCCC, at the college’s teaching location in Chandler or at the nearby Chandler Municipal Airport.
“The DCCC Flight Instructor Program has been designed around realistic completion times for each semester,” John said. “This means that we have allotted sufficient flight hours and ground training hours to enable a motivated and hardworking student to be able to successfully finish each semester’s workload in one semester. This greatly reduces the chance of a student having to repeat a semester or semesters.”
In addition to the core and general education courses that make up this degree program, the DCCC Flight Instructor Program includes the training required for the following FAA Pilot Certificates and FAA pilot ratings, such as Private Pilot Certificate—Helicopter; Instrument Rating—Helicopter; Commercial Pilot Certificate—Helicopter; Certified Flight Instructor—Helicopter and Certified Flight Instructor—Instrument Helicopter, John said.
“Over the five semesters of training, the program provides for 280 hours of real helicopter flight training (with no simulators), 185 hours of one-on-one helicopter ground instruction, and nearly 600 hours of aviation classroom instruction,” he said. “All of this helicopter-related training is for one purpose, to produce graduates who will be the most prepared, safe, and effective helicopter flight instructors that they can be.”
DCCC has an agreement with Quantum Helicopters, also located in Chandler, which gives it access to Quantum’s fleet of aircraft, as well as the usage of Quantum’s airport facilities. Since its inception in 1993, Quantum has grown to be one of the busiest and most respected helicopter flight training schools in the nation.
Operating out of the Chandler Municipal Airport, Quantum is the sole operator of what is believed to be the largest public heliport in the United States. It includes 36 landing pads with taxiway access, a large turf training area, nearly 8,000 square feet of office space, and a 14,400-square-foot hangar for aircraft storage and maintenance.
Neil Jones, who serves as president at Quantum Helicopters, said he thinks the program is growing by leaps and bounds. And although the current enrollment is up to 50 students, he said the existing program can handle up to 85, which means there is still room for growth.
“I think things are going about as well as they could possibly go,” he said.
In 2017, Jones said John approached him about a new partnership for its Flight Instructor program.
“I told somebody last week, it felt like it was a match made in heaven, although I wasn’t sure when [John] first approached me, because [DCCC] had been working with one of our competitors,” he said.
That competitor — Universal Helicopter Inc. — was DCCC’s original partner when the college launched its flight program back in 2008 in Dodge City.
“When you know the history and where it came from, I don’t think it could be going any better,” he said.
Jones said the enthusiastic and supportive relationship Quantum has built with DCCC has exceeded his expectations, especially the support from the college’s Board of Trustees.
“I’ve been to Dodge City twice, and I’ve had three or four representatives of the Board visit our facilities in the past three years,” he said. “The level of dedication I’ve seen toward making the program, and more importantly their students, successful from everyone at the college has been incredible.”
For its Flight Instructor program, DCCC mainly utilizes Robinson R22II helicopters, and the college has access to a total of 18 helicopters, including three that are branded with DCCC colors and or logos.
“The Robinson R22 has dominated the civilian helicopter market as the flight trainer of choice, and as the helicopter that new instructors are, by far, most likely to obtain their first job in. And the R22 dominates the flight instruction market due to its extreme cost effectiveness, reliability, and overall quality,” John said.
“At DCCC, we have chosen to use R22II helicopters that have been equipped with the best of modern glass cockpits for our instrument helicopter courses,” he said. “This has allowed DCCC to offer our instrument training at roughly half of the price per hour of most schools, and it has allowed us to not have to resort to low-cost and ineffective helicopter simulators to try and make our instrument training look less expensive.”
The current cost of the DCCC Flight Instructor program is around $120,000. However, DCCC has an active program for military veterans who are seeking to use their Post 9-11 GI Bill education benefits. By using these Veterans Administration (VA) benefits, qualifying veterans can receive up to 100% financing, which can even include the FAA Private Helicopter Certificate.
“Flight training adds significant expense to a degree program,” he said. “Because DCCC is an accredited college, students also may be eligible for various types of loans and financial aid.”
The cost of flight school was a big concern for Talon Lee, who is a second semester—instrument student at DCCC-Arizona.
“I actually [had] just got out of the Army, and I wanted to try something different,” he said. “I was on the fence about getting out, but I made the decision that I wanted to fly helicopters. I had no idea how I was going to do it.”
Figuring his Post 9-11 GI Bill would cover at least some of the costs of flight school, Lee initially thought he might have to commit to a year-long contract in Afghanistan to make money for the remainder of his schooling expenses. However, after visiting with staff at DCCC-Arizona, he found out his expenses would be covered.
“Once I found out… my flight school was 100% covered, I was really excited about that,” he said. “I just didn’t want to use the GI Bill® to be another guy who goes for a criminal justice degree to be a cop. A lot of guys do that, but I wanted to do something different. The school here has been really, really awesome.”
Another DCCC student, Jessica Brandal, who graduated from the program in spring 2021, was a former Air Force airborne linguist. After the military, Brandal decided to try a flight school in Virginia, which didn’t work out for her like she had planned.
“Here at Dodge City, you have a semester timeline versus a lot of schools where it takes two or three semesters to get just one rating,” she said. “That can be a bit frustrating, when you are trying to progress in your career, and it is taking a lot longer than you intended. The flight instruction that I received was a 1,000 times better than what I was getting before. I only have awesome things to say about my experience.”
DCCC’s Chief Flight Instructor, Tim Brennan, said he is excited about the program’s increased enrollment, and he hopes that the recent graduates can be hired back with DCCC and Quantum as full-time instructors.
“The challenge we are facing this summer is a huge group,” Brennan said. “It’s a good problem to have, but it has been a little stressful, especially training new instructors, managing their growth, and being able to accommodate all of these new students who are joining the program as the word spreads.”