K-State helicopter program taking off with UHI partnership

A UHI flight instructor goes through preflight processes with a K-State Salina student.

SALINA — When the number of students in Kansas State University’s aviation program wanting to learn to fly rotor-wing aircraft outnumbered the university’s one helicopter, department head Kurt Barnhart came up with a solution: partner with Universal Helicopters Inc. to provide flight training.

In the first three months of the partnership the helicopter program has grown to 20 students, three flight instructors and three aircraft.

“The growth far exceeds my expectations,” Barnhart said. “We have already achieved what I anticipated would take six months to a year.”

UHI has already had to bring in a third instructor, something they weren’t expecting to do for a while. The student load, however, made it necessary.

“There are three of us and we are all in the air eight to ten hours a day,” said John Lewis, chief pilot for UHI’s K-State operations unit.

A K-State student flies one of the Robinson R22 Beta IIs.

Students learn to fly in UHI’s two Robinson R22 Beta IIs and one Robinson R44 Raven II and as the program continues to grow, so will the fleet.

Barnhart’s plans for the program include reaching and maintaining a level of 50 students

progressing through a helicopter-only degree option, a goal he thinks is attainable based on current interest and the opportunity for veterans wanting to use the GI Bill to pursue a career in helicopter aviation.

The campus is located 56 miles from Fort Riley, home of the Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Infantry Division.

“Having a four-year degree from Kansas State University with an emphasis on helicopter training will really set graduates of this program apart from their competition in the job market,” said Gordon Jiroux, president of UHI. “And Universal Helicopters has no unemployed graduates since our inception nearly 30 years ago.”

Universal Helicopters has been supporting collegiate helicopter flight programs since 2002. They currently provide helicopter flight training for Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s Prescott, Ariz., campus and Dodge City Community College. This partnership is the company’s fifth location and brings its collegiate flight program fleet to a total of 25 helicopters.

Kansas State University Salina offers a bachelor’s degree in professional pilot, which can be earned in airplanes or helicopters. The campus offers five other aviation-based bachelor’s degrees: aircraft maintenance, air traffic control, airport management, avionics technology and unmanned aircraft systems. More information is available at http://www.salina.k-state.edu/aviation.

Sources: Kurt Barnhart, 785-826-2972, kurtb@k-state.edu; and Gordon Jiroux, 602-469-2258, gaj@universalheli.com

News release prepared by: Natalie Blair, 785-826-2642, nblair@k-state.edu