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Aviation program takes flight

KLAMATH FALLS — Justin Walker was watching as a new aviation science program at Klamath Community College was taking shape in 2014.

An interest in flight and a suggestion by his father-in-law, a pilot, brought Walker to KCC to enroll in the new program that officially got off the ground in October.

"I kind of saw it being built from the ground up," Walker said Friday.

Walker is one of 10 students enrolled in the aviation science program at KCC, who are in the midst of training since the program officially started in fall 2014. Walker, 23, recently obtained his private pilot's license, and said he wants to eventually fly search and rescue helicopters.

Walker and other students fly to surrounding areas, including Chiloquin, Butte Valley and Tulelake, from the Crater Lake-Klamath Regional Airport.

"The best way to describe it is, you're kind of free," Walker said of the flight experience. "You can essentially go wherever you want."

Walker, a non-veteran, obtained a private loan to help pay for the program.

"I spent two years trying to fly and essentially not having the money for it," Walker said. "If you want it badly enough, you can find a way to make it happen."

And for those with a passion for flight, Nigel Cooper, director for Precision Aviation, based out of Newburg, assures he is trying to help develop a training program set apart from the rest.

"I was brought in to get the program off the ground," said Cooper, who previously served in the New Zealand military.

"It's been growing at a faster rate than we would have imagined since then."

Details still need to be worked out, but Cooper said the program would like to find those within the aviation industry willing to help ease the financial burden for students who are not veterans.

"There's some great prospects out there that don't have the financial backing to do it," Cooper said.

Seven of the KCC students are veterans, who receive training at no cost.

"About two-thirds of the program are veterans across the board," Cooper said.

Rick Flowers is one of them, and served more than 30 years in the security forces in the U.S. Air Force.

"The cool thing about this is they teach you to do something incredibly fun," Flowers said.

Cooper wants to make sure his students have everything they need to succeed in the aviation industry. But he also expects the best from his students and treats the program as a "two-year job interview" from day one, as some students could be hired by Precision Aviation as instructors.

Cooper said he can tell from the start if students have the passion for flying and the dedication to see it through when they take the online courses component of the program.

"You want to keep that passion alive in that student because that's how they're going to pass," Cooper said.

Students go through a multiple certification processes to obtain an associate of aviation science degree, with 18 online courses.

Cooper said you won't find a "cookie cutting" or bare-minimum style of training at Precision's program through KCC or Newburg. He emphasized the program as one that embraces state-of-the-art technology, and stresses risk management and pre-flight planning. The program also will be one of the first in the nation, according to Cooper, to use the Guimbal Cabri helicopter for training.

"I'm trying to distinguish our program from any of the other flight schools out there," Cooper said.

"We are trying to generate a program that is better than the rest. Yes, they understand the basics, but in the modern aviation world, you've got to move with the times. That's why we're trying to distinguish ourselves."

Nigel Cooper, Director of College Programs for Precision Aviation at Klamath Community College, stands with a helicopter at the Crater Lake-Klamath Regional Airport on Thursday. The Herald And News / Holly Dillemuth
Flight instructor Keaton Snow explains the cockpit of the Schweitzer 300C helicopter, which is used to train students. The Herald And News / Holly Dillemuth