After a lot of planning, implementation and huge interest, May will see the first pilots to graduate from Ozarka College’s newest and most talked about program, General Aviation, which saw its first students enter the innovative new program last August.
April 9, students who will soon be earning their pilot licenses were able to show off the things they have learned to the public and a younger generation of potential pilots at a Fly-In event that was well attended at the Melbourne Municipal Airport.
The students and volunteers were eager to cook a pancake breakfast. There was also a safety seminar for the pilots which featured common things that may go wrong in flight and landing. Children from 10 to 17 were then treated to short flights.
Nick Lenczycki, Ozarka’s Director of Aviation was very enthusiastic about the two year program. He said during the first two semesters, there are 12 pilots gaining their private pilot licenses in the program. Currently they are all in airplanes and flying with assistance. They are working toward a goal of their first solo flight by the end of semester.
Lenczycki joined the Ozarka staff as the head of the new program. He entered the Navy after graduating from high school and became a Navy electrician and went to work on the opposite end of the spectrum on which he works now, under the ocean, instead of in the clouds, working while in the military on a submarine. He then utilized his veterans benefits and attended college obtaining a math degree and one in flight training. Before joining Ozarka’s program, Lenczycki worked at South Dakota State as chief instructor of their flight program and at Auburn State as assistant chief instructor. He said he enjoys the small town close knit community and how all of his students know each other.
Jacob Harness, a 2015 Mountain View High School graduate is among the 12 earning his license. Harness is in his second semester of the aviation program. “So far, it has been great. I had been flying a little bit before. So far, we are practicing basic things around the airport and preparing for the cross country to Little Rock,” he said. His senior year, Harness said he first became interested in the aviation program at Ozarka when Lenczycki came to school and talked to students about the program. “I was planning on going to Henderson, but decided to stay close to home,” he said. His ultimate career plan is to work for the airlines. He said during his first semester the classes were instructional including basic introductory flight, turns and climbing. He said, Lenczyki keeps his hand on controls and let’s students help land the plane.
Jackson Smotherman, a very enthusiastic young man was more than excited to be at the fly-in and get to witness the planes. “I flew a little on the way here,” he said. When asked how he flew because he was too young, the wanna be future pilot said, “That’s easy, on my iPad.”
The program took a lot of planning to finally implement and it is the only program of its type in this part of the state. After conducting independent research and taking surveys from local high schools, a need for more pilots was realized. An advisory council comprised of aviation leaders began the frame work in 2014.
Students are required to complete 45 hours of general education credits governed by the state with heavy science and math concentrations. The General Aviation degree was designed similar to courses at Henderson State University, that helped Ozarka design the curriculum should the student opt to transfer to the Arkadelphia based college later to earn a bachelor degree in aviation.
All the course work is designed to transfer. Fifteen credit hours of the program will be aviation specific. Classes will include aviation weather, aviation safety, air traffic control and flying labs that include aerodynamics. Students will be required to do a minimum of 30 hours in the air. While Melbourne is the home of the program, surrounding airports will also participate through what Ozarka President Dr. Richard Dawe explained as a “hub and spoke partnership.”
Academic classes are held at the Melbourne campus but later they envision conducting a hub and spoke operation with regional airports like Sharp County Regional Airport in Ash Flat, Mountain View and Thayer, Mo., which is near the Mammoth Spring campus. Dawe explained the importance of students gaining experience at outlying airports rather than where they regularly fly. He said they will also fly to larger outlying fields which have air traffic control.
Dawe, who came back home to become president of Ozarka in 2009 is a retired Naval Captain from an aviator family. He has a great love for aviation and flew EA6B Prowlers at an aircraft carrier base for about 24 years. Dawe said the college is currently interviewing for full time director for the flight program as well as full time flight instructor and several adjunct part time certified flight instructor positions to teach in the classroom and in flight operations.
There are no other programs in the state who own and operate their own fleet of aircraft.
Ozarka’s trustees and senior staff recognize the need in the industry for professional pilots will continue to grow. “We realized there was a career opportunity that had never been represented to this area and that is why it is particularly exciting to us, we want to fill that need. It is exciting and will draw attention, not only to the aviation program, but also to our other programs,” Dawe said, in an earlier interview about the program.
Ozarka leased a spacious terminal at the Melbourne Airport for the General Aviation Program. The building is a common use facility for specific areas of the program pilots can use the upgraded facility with a high tech operations planning room. In the future, with the support of Arkansas grant funding, Dawe said Ozarka envisions building a larger facility that includes a hanger and flight simulator room. “Just because we are a small rural college doesn’t mean we can’t do things in a very advanced way,” Dawe said. With a centrally located campus to all outlying areas, it is easy to see how commuting the short distance would be desirable for potential pilots to obtain their degree and private pilot’s licenses.
Due to Dawe’s partnership with the airport [airport commission chairperson], it has allowed Ozarka to keep the overall costs down. The savings is transferred to the students.”
Initially, Ozarka surveyed 14 high schools in the area. Nearly 200 local students expressed a significant interest in the program. In addition, Ozarka invested in an independent research study that showed 99 openings per year in a 60 mile radius of Melbourne. With industry demand, coupled with the interest, the General Aviation program appears to be headed in the right direction. The program is unique because there are no competitors in the area, further broadening the programs reach.
Dawe went on to express Ozarka’s gratitude for the support the college has received from both the the City of Melbourne and the airport commission in helping facilitate a start up at the airport. “It is very rare to find a group who works together to support such a unique opportunity,” he said.
Whether becoming a pilot may be a necessity for a job or simply obtaining a pilot’s license to fly private aircraft for pleasure or commuting, Ozarka offers the most cost effective program in the region and continues to allow the local economy to prosper, one of the college’s original missions.
As Ozarka continues to grow and further expand regionally, helping students from both traditional and non traditional background obtain degrees in their respective fields, they continue to keep up with industry demand for various jobs in the region.