Aviation program promises blue skies for students

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Dylan Massey was at the controls on his way to Nantucket when William McCaffrey asked if he could head back to Green Airport. Massey banked the Cessna and the distant view of the airport came into sight. Massey felt up to landing the aircraft although he had had a couple of close calls. He passed over Main Avenue.

Runway 5 was below, its streaked surface a good 150 feet away. But there’s a lot of runway, 8,700 feet to be exact, and that’s a good thing. Massey had to bring the plane down. He pulled back on the throttle. The engine was almost idling. What about the flaps? He had forgotten to lower them. He reached for the control. The plane slowed some more but now it was yawing from side to side. McCaffrey could see what might happen. They could miss the runway. He didn’t say anything. Massey found the center of the runway and leveled the plane, bringing it down. He was on the ground, but then Airport Road was just ahead. They were running out of space.

“I don’t think I’m going to make it,” said Massey. McCaffrey said nothing. He watched.

There was no way Massey could abort the landing and takeoff. Massey stood on the brakes. The Cessna came to a halt in time. Massey turned to McCaffrey with a broad grin. They had landed in one piece.

The Cessna Sky Hawk is one of many planes students can fly from the flight simulator at the Warwick Area Career and Technical Center. Changing aircraft is a matter of clicking a few keys on the computer and up pops a new array of flight instruments. There’s also the option of selecting airports and destinations.

But it is Green Airport that is going to play a new role in the curriculum of the center’s aviation academy.

Beginning Feb. 4 and running until May 24, three Level 3 students – Massey is one of them – will report for class at the airport under a new program McCaffrey, Warwick Area Career and Tech Center director, and Iftikhar Ahmad, president and CEO of the Rhode Island Airport Corporation, have had on the drawing board for a couple of weeks. Ahmad views the program as a feeder to a wide selection of airport jobs and an introduction to the basics of aviation. He’s excited to have students at Green and reporting to different departments from administration to airfield maintenance and operations. The students would also get an experience with airport concessions, the fire department, customs and even FAA traffic control.

McCaffrey and Ahmad have met on three occasions to develop the curriculum. The intent, said McCaffrey, “is to keep it small” at first with the top-level students eligible for the experience.

“They are going to find a good ticket to the future,” said McCaffrey.

Warwick took over the aviation program from East Greenwich after it lagged there. It seemed only right to McCaffrey that the program be based in Warwick because of its proximity to Green. Today 15 students are enrolled in the aviation academy run by Brian Lussier.

As for the curriculum with Green, McCaffrey said he plans to submit it for review by Bridgewater State and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University for review and credit should students choose to continue their education at either of the institutions offering programs in avionics. As it stands now, the center program prepares students to take the FAA written pilot’s examination. Flight hours are not a part of the course, although students can do that on their own time and expense.

That’s the direction Massey wants to take. He’s intrigued with the thought of being a stunt pilot although, from a practical standpoint, a commercial pilot is more realistic.

McCaffrey is also thinking of blue sky.

He’s not thinking of sitting at the controls and taking off, but bringing an airplane into the classroom. The center already has the engine from a single-engine plane for students to work on. Now he would like the fuselage and he’s taken the measurements.

“I can get it through the door. It should fit,” McCaffrey said of his plan. He’s looking for the plane to be donated from Build A Plane.

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