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Fighting Irish take flight

Nicole Michels | Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Students fascinated by game day flyovers will have a chance to get an inside look at what it takes to fly next semester. The Notre Dame Pilot Initiative, an academic program intended to teach students about the fundamentals of flight, will return this spring.

The three-credit course, Principles of Flight, is specifically designed to help aspirant pilots pass the written portion of the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) private pilot certification test.

Jay Burns, a cadet captain in the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps (AFROTC) and certified ground instructor, is leading the effort to bring back the course. He said the class will use much of the same material that helped him pass the FAA test.

“I learned to fly from this material when I was still a sophomore in high school, and it certainly helped me pass my FAA written exam to get my private pilot certificate,” Burns said. “I felt that I was more advanced because I’ve had a better background and a deeper understanding of the different concepts that you deal with in aviation.”

Burns said he would incorporate additional material used by Joe Friel, a former Air Force ROTC student who led the class the last time it was offered.

Friel, now a program manager at Avidyne, the leading provider of cockpit instrumentation for small aircrafts, said he and Newcamp developed the curriculum to offer students an insight into the practical application of flight concepts.

“We tried to bring material that was appropriate, but that was in-depth enough to give students a real appreciation for the concepts,” Friel said. “More than just memorizing for the tests, we wanted them to really understand what was making the plan fly.”

When the initiative began, Friel said primarily AFROTC students were interested. The second semester, however, he was surprised by a drastic change in class makeup.

“We taught some that did want to be pilots and some that didn’t,” Friel said. “One girl that signed up for our course was an artist who drew some of the materials that we used, and who had signed up for the class because she had family members who flew and she wanted more of an appreciation of flying.”

Colonel Andrew Cernicky, a professor of Aerospace Studies, a U.S. Air Force pilot and a graduate of Notre Dame’s ROTC program, will co-lead the course with Burns.

Cernicky said he was excited when Burns approached him with his plans for revitalizing the initiative, both because he took the course as an undergraduate and because it offered an opportunity to expose students to the fundamentals of flight for the first time.

“This class should demystify the process of flying and make it completely understandable,” Cernicky said. “You don’t need to be a scientist or mathematician to take this course, anyone at ND can take it that has an interest in understanding how aircraft fly.”

Mary Hession, a sophomore in Notre Dame’s Air Force ROTC, said she is glad the course is designed to be accessible to those without previous experience. As a Russian major, she said the course would be a good introduction to a more technical area of study.

“All of the technical majors have more of the background knowledge that corresponds to understanding flying, so this class will help me by giving me that knowledge,” she said.

Jordan Hoover, another AFROTC sophomore, said he is taking the class to get exposure to material he may later see in the Air Force’s pilot training.

“I’m fairly sure that I want to be a pilot,” Hoover said. “[The course] will give me the experience to know for sure that’s what I want to do, and I’ll have seen the material that I would encounter in pilot training.”

Now retired Colonel Mike Zenk, who oversaw the program when it was under Friel’s leadership, said the original class material included many of the elements taught at ground school. Students learned the basics of aerodynamics, FAA rules about airspaces, airport and flight operations, communications with ground crews, safety precautions and pilot navigation skills.

“The biggest benefit [of the class] is taking that first step towards actually being able to fly an airplane,” Zenk said. “To help spark that interest or to take their first step towards a dream that they have is the best reason to take the class.”