BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - It's out of the classroom and into the skies for a group of students at BRCC this week enrolled in the college's helicopter pilot training program.
The students are starting in-flight training. Over the course of six semesters, the students will learn everything they need to know to safely operate helicopters and eventually, they'll be certified to teach these courses.
"Just to see in the last three weeks of school, how much they've actually learned, it's almost amazing," said instructor C.J. Schneider.
Right now, 19 students are enrolled in the program. For the first few weeks of the first semester, students spend time in the classroom with Guidance Aviation staff learning about avionics, as well as doing flight simulations.
After about one month, instructors and students head to the airport to get more hands-on experience with chopper safety and, of course, operations. The college added the certification to its list of offered courses to answer a demand for chopper pilots around the nation.
Many Vietnam-era pilots are retiring and new pilots are needed, especially in regions like the Gulf Coast.
"We're trying to get with other companies and find exactly what they need. Right now, we're working towards the oil industry and preparing them for that, doing vessel landings and offshore landings just to make it really career-oriented," Schneider added.
Pilot-in-training Gabe Jimenez, like many other students in this program, signed up following time in the service. Jimenez said he spent some time around aircraft in the military, but added being the one behind the controls of the chopper is eye opening.
"We've been doing simulations and it's definitely different, but it's a lot more exciting," he explained. "It's awesome."
For those who would want to get certified to fly the friendly skies of our nation but have fears or doubts, Jimenez said this is the perfect program for you.
"They are so helpful. They're hands-on during simulation in the simulators. They're very helpful and if you have any doubts, they're going to help you through them," he said.
BRCC was recently named a center of transportation excellence and this program is the first of many new courses.