WWU Aviation Program Celebrates 50 Years
The Walla Walla University (WWU) aviation program is celebrating 50 years of flight this year.
The program has come a long way since its beginnings in 1967. The fleet of airplanes has expanded from two planes — a Cessna 150 and a Cessna 182 — to the current ideal training fleet of four Cessna 172s for general purpose aviation, a Cessna 182 for bush and high-performance training, a retractable-gear Piper Arrow, and a Beechcraft Duchess for multiengine certification. The program offerings have expanded through the years as well and now include Bachelor of Science degrees in aviation and aviation management.
“We are attracting people nationwide to our aviation program — even from outside the Adventist community — who can see how incredible our program is and the opportunities it allows,” says Michael Gref, aviation operations manager.
Gref explains that, within the aviation world, regulatory changes combined with recent high rates of retirement for pilots have created many opportunities for young pilots. WWU aviation graduates fly planes for airlines around the world, including Mountain Aviation, Skywest and Qatar Airways.
Handel Wellington, 2005 WWU aviation graduate, started his career in aviation as a load master and then became a flight instructor. Now, 12 years later, he is captain of a Boeing 777 for Qatar Airways.
“The Walla Walla University aviation program puts more responsibility on the student than most other schools,” says Gref. “Our students can take an aircraft on weekends, holidays or quiet afternoons and go fly to different locations.”
That flexible learning approach is one of Gref’s favorite features of the program. “On any given Sunday our aircraft can be found as far north as Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, south to Loma Linda [Calif.], west in Seattle [Wash.] or Portland [Ore.], and east in Montana or Utah. Some trips have gone as far as Chicago, New York and Florida," Gref says. "This is very unique to Walla Walla University and builds a student’s decision-making and responsibility in the aircraft.”
In honor of the 50-year anniversary of flight at WWU, a variety of events are planned to celebrate the accomplishments, aircraft and operations of the flight program, including an open house and alumni dinner during 2017 homecoming weekend, April 27–30.