DSU’s Helicopter Flight Training Program is growing as it heads into year 2 this fall.

1st year of unique DSU helicopter studies program successful

Jarek RutzHeadlines, Education

DSU’s Helicopter Flight Training Program is growing as it heads into year 2 this fall.

DSU’s Helicopter Flight Training Program is growing as it heads into year 2 this fall.

Delaware State University is the first and only Historically Black College and University to offer a helicopter training program, and it’s fair to say year one of it was a success.

Two upcoming sophomores at DSU, Zach Wainio and Gavin Parker, both said the program is the reason they chose to attend the school.

“I took lessons in high school and I really loved it, and looking at what I should do next I came here and the timing was pretty coincidental because this program is very new,” Parker said, “so we took a lot of risk in being the first ones, we had to be the ones to make mistakes so the people after us can learn, but it’s, it’s a great opportunity, it really is.”

The degree itself is a bachelors of science degree in aviation: professional pilot helicopter, and it was created last August with five total students in its inaugural year. 

10 more students are expected to join in the 2024-2025 school year, according to Thomas Baechle, a flight instructor for Ascent Aeronautical Academy, a flight school in Medford, New Jersey that was contracted by DSU.

More instructors will join the program too. 

A bunch of flight schools applied for the contract bid, and Ascent was picked and given a four-year contract with a two-year optional extension for a little under $7 million, per Doug Herlihy, co-owner of Ascent.

“I grew up in Brooklyn, New York, and where I lived the Coast Guard and police had their helicopters close by, so they would fly over my house like 20 times a day,” Herlihy said. “One day I was just like, ‘I want to do that’ and I quit my job, I moved to New Jersey and I went to school to learn how to fly.”

Now, his school is the vessel for Delaware’s youth to learn the same skills. 

DSU’s Helicopter Flight Training Program is an Army scholarship that trains select Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) cadets to fly helicopters during college while laying the foundation to be future Army aviators.

Along with flight certifications, cadets receive leadership training. 

By the end of the four years, enrollees will have completed 200 total hours of learning and flying and will receive a Private Pilot Certification, Instrument Certification, Commercial Certification and Certified Flight Instructor Certification.

Essentially, by the end of the four years, the helicopter students will have certification to fly themselves, fly others and teach people how to fly.

“I want to point out specifically the equipment that Ascent uses, I really love the helicopter that they use,” Parker said. “It’s one of the best training helicopters that you can use right now in the market…it’s fairly new and it’s safe and Ireally have never felt any danger flying with that.”

Wainio said he felt the first year has been successful, and he really enjoys the amount of times he and his classmates are in the air.

“We could fly up to like four times a week, maybe five, and the instructors are always open for a few extra if you need it, if you’re behind,” he said. “We fly during the breaks and get ahead. I don’t really think there’s anything to improve right now, it’s just been a learning process and I think it’s gone very smoothly for us.”

The two students said some of their favorite experiences have been the “cross-country” flights where they travel to different airports in neighboring states.

They also enjoyed night flights, with the lights below shimmering up at them in the sky. 

“We’ll eventually go to the Army, and we could fly medevac, transportation, it’s really anything combat,” Wainio said. “There’s oil rig pilots, powerline pilots, inspections and stuff like that. It’s just a range of so many different jobs.”

Parker said he isn’t looking to the future yet and is rather focusing on what he’s learning now to become a better aviator. 

“All that we care about is flying,” he said. “I don’t think it matters where.”

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