Austin Peay students earn their wings in state’s only helicopter program

Special Reports

CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Austin Peay State University is the only school in Tennessee, and one of the few in the country, to offer a degree to those who want to fly helicopters.

“What we provide over just a stand alone flight school, is that we offer a four year degree in aviation science.” said Charles Weigandt, program director and retired Army pilot.

The university’s Aviation Science Program prepares students for the written pilot’s exam, but also gives them five different pilot’s certificates.

“The program was designed to take people with zero knowledge and graduate them as fully qualified rotary wing aviators.” said Weigandt

The university is less than twenty miles from Army post, Fort Campbell.

The school said they’re able to use aviation, to create opportunities for veterans entering the civilian world.

“After I finish the program I’d love to go find a place to build hours and to start a career,” said student Jerry Gray.

This year the program was approved for “Veterans Education Benefits,” meaning little-to-no cost for those who’ve served.

“Even in my case, where I’ve worked on aircraft and never had a chance to fly them in the military, this gives me a chance to start flying them out of the military with the benefits I’ve received.” said Gray

This summer the Aviation Science degree also qualified for Department of Education funding. Now, students will be able to use federal grants or loans for the program.

“The other thing that’s really looming in aviation in general is a pilot shortage.” said Weigandt

The school said filling that gap, also gives students a variety of options,

“Medical evacuation, but there are a lot of other commercial uses: there are sightseeing, there’s aerial photography, aerial survey. agriculture is a big use for rotary wing aircraft, crop dusting.” said Weigandt

The program is only in its second year. Austin Peay State University said they anticipate to their first graduate of the Aviation Science degree will be in the summer of 2022.

News 2 is digging deeper into the growth of Clarksville and the impact it has on communities in Middle Tennessee. We explore “Clarksville: The Good, The Bad, The Future” all day Thursday in every newscast. Click here for more.

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