By Jeremy Angione
While an eagle is born to soar, some Liberty students seek the same opportunity to take flight by training in the university’s School of Aeronautics (SOA). Relatively new, the program started as the Department of Aviation within the School of Arts and Sciences, becoming the School of Aeronautics in 2008, according to Dean of the SOA and President of Freedom Aviation Gen. David Young.
The aviation program as a whole has seen considerable growth.
“In 2002, we started with four students, and now have more than 600 enrolled in all of our programs,” Young said.
Students in the program meet at the Airport Campus, where they learn in a Liberty-owned academic and flight operations center.
Freedom Aviation is a separate entity from the SOA, but is still owned by Liberty, according to Young. Freedom Aviation handles SOA’s flight operations, provides fueling for aircrafts, aircraft maintenance, hangar storage space and several employment opportunities for graduates. The two organizations are closely intertwined.
Every week, aviation major Diego Elliott receives multiple hands-on piloting sessions high above Lynchburg. He receives real-world experience while performing various maneuvers and training exercises in the air.
“Hopefully, I’ll be able to fly commercial,” Elliott said.
According to Young, the SOA’s mission is not only to train outstanding aviators, but to prepare exceptionally strong Christians as well.
Students can choose to pilot in different concentrations, including commercial, military and missions aviation, according to SOA flight instructor Nate Johnson.
With the type of resources the SOA provides, being mission-minded is an opportunity that the program uses to its advantage.
“The SOA fully supports Liberty University’s mission by placing Christian aviators in the aviation industry. We believe that wherever God places our graduates, he has put them in the mission field,” Young said.
According to Young, SOA graduates are currently serving in a variety of aviation fields including airlines, corporate piloting and military piloting.
“We have graduates serving in the airlines, missions, corporate and military, (including the) United States Air Force, United States Army, Marines and the U.S. Navy,” Young said. “Many of our students remain at Liberty University to instruct within the program after graduation to build experience and flying hours.”
The SOA partners with missions organizations such as the International Association of Mission Aviation and Mission Safety International, according to Young.
“We are also reaching out to international students as there is a great need for aviation training opportunities around the world,” Young said.
According to Johnson, missionary pilots often speak to students who hope to enter the mission field and learn to pilot in rougher areas as a type of “back country flying.”
“My concentration is missions,” aviation major Elijah Burton said. “The curriculum is great. It challenges and pushes us to reach a higher standard. The professors have designed it so that when we graduate, there will not be any surprises in the real world.”
Not only does the SOA train pilots, but they also train students as different types of aircraft personnel.
“We have expanded from training pilots to training aircraft mechanics, unmanned aerial systems operators and flight attendants. We now offer an online degree completion plan for already FAA certified pilots,” Young said.
To foster a hands-on learning atmosphere, Young stated that the SOA will have “state-of-the-art simulators” added to include a jet simulator.
According to Young, SOA programs not only ensure that students have a working knowledge of aircraft operation, but also an opportunity to enter into the aviation industry after graduation by partnering with companies such as ExpressJet and Dynamic Aviation.
“We will continue to add courses and curriculums to meet the demands in the aviation industry,” Young said.