MOSES LAKE - Big Bend Community College and Inland Helicopters of Spokane are working together to offer a new program to train helicopter pilots. If there's enough interest, instructors are willing to start a class during winter quarter, Devin Gooch said, who's one of the two instructors.
The program was established in the spring, with classes during summer quarter. It's a two-year program, and students graduate with an associate's degree in flight science along with helicopter ratings, Gooch said. "It's very similar to the fixed-wing side of the house."
Students do not need to have fixed-wing experience or certification to fly helicopters, Gooch said. "I have point-nine hours in a fixed wing aircraft," he said. He flew one time, and "I didn't really care for it."
Students do, however, have to pay for helicopter rental, Gooch said, along with school tuition.
Students qualify for private pilot, instructor and community ratings, and flight instructor certification, he said. Students graduate from the BBCC program with 200 flight hours. That's what's required for the helicopters flown in the program, he said.
Gooch said he served in the U.S. Army from 2005 to 2008 in the medical corps, and saw choppers in action. "You get to see them do some cool stuff."
He was intrigued by the possibility of flying them himself, he said, and used his military education benefits for the training.
"Everything" about flying is cool, he said. "Flying is cool in general. Flying anything is cool. But helicopters are a little bit unique."
Helicopters can land in tight spaces, take off and land vertically, and the view from the pilot's seat is amazing, Gooch said. "You can see everything in a helicopter." But "probably the coolest thing about a helicopter is the ability to hover."
It's a unique flying experience. "They're a very dynamic machine to fly," Gooch said. Pilots are constantly adjusting as they fly. But "once you get the hang of it, it's completely intuitive," he said. For an experienced pilot, "it just does what you want without much thought. Pretty cool."
The small - currently 10 students - program at BBCC is using two piston-engine helicopters, and is in the process of getting a turbojet chopper, Gooch said. "That's on the horizon, but it just hasn't quite come to fruition."
Turbo certification requires at least 1,000 hours flight time, he said, so many pilots work as flight instructors to earn the extra hours. Once they build up those hours, there are job opportunities out there, Gooch said, especially as pilots who started their careers during the 1960s and 1970s start to retire. "There is a pilot shortage, for sure."
Commercial applications range from transport to fire fighting to emergency medicine to tourist flights, Gooch said, and more besides.
The BBCC program is the only one in eastern Washington that qualifies as Part 141-certified, Danielle Leigh, the administrative assistant, said. That allows military veterans to use educational benefits, Leigh said.
People who want more information about the program can contact instructors through the college, 509-793-2222. They can download the application from the college website, Leigh said, or leave a message on the Inland Helicopter website or Facebook page.