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APSU graduates first students from its helicopter-focused aviation science program

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CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. – Seven Austin Peay State University students made history on Friday, Dec. 9, when they became the first graduates of the College of STEM’s aviation science program. The University launched the program in 2019, giving APSU the state’s first and only helicopter flight school that awards bachelor’s degrees.

 “I joined this program in pursuit of my dream of becoming a helicopter pilot,” Kristina Fish, one of the first graduates, said. “It was perfect timing for the school to launch the aviation science program just as I was exiting the military at Fort Campbell, which is why I chose this particular place – to utilize my GI Bill benefits in a convenient location.”

Once she began taking classes, Fish quickly realized she’d picked the right program.

“It is an incredibly challenging program that I believe demands more than many other degrees,” she said. “It requires you to have cognitive skills as well as motor skills. It calls upon students to utilize decision-making practices and provides endless opportunity for learning and growth because that is what the industry demands. The staff members and instructors demonstrated exceptional professionalism throughout the years, and I would recommend the program to anybody searching for a helicopter program.”

In addition to Fish, the program’s inaugural graduates were Jerry Gray, Samuel Nicholas, John Alden, Sean-Michael Horn, Ryan Erb and Sean Jones. All seven students previously earned their private pilot helicopter certificates as part of the program.

“I had randomly come across an advertisement for this program back in 2019 when it was first getting set up,” Ryan Erb, the first APSU student to make a solo flight, said. “Having wanted to go to flight school while I was in the Army, this of course sparked my interest. I met with Mr. (Charles) Weigandt (program director and founding member of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment) and enrolled in the program…Additional retired Army aviators were added as instructors, bringing even more experience and knowledge on board. It has been a privilege flying with these gentlemen and with this program, learning so much along the way as well as getting the opportunity to instruct.”

In June 2021, the University officially unveiled its new Aviation Science Facility at the Clarksville-Montgomery County Regional Airport. That facility includes a hangar, classroom space, a flight simulation room, a computer work area for rotorcraft students and room for flight instructors and a mechanic.

“I will say that I am proud to be one of the first to graduate this program in APSU history,” Samuel Nicholas said. “I do believe that this program will continue to grow and be one of the many things that Austin Peay is known for. I would absolutely recommend this program to anyone interested in flight training. The great faculty and staff that help run and support it continue to perfect the pilot training process.”

In addition to its seven graduates, the program now has six helicopters, seven flight instructors and two helicopter mechanics. For information on APSU’s aviation science program, visit https://www.apsu.edu/engineering-technology/aviation-science.php.

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