Posted 6 years 259 days ago ago by jhadmin
How GI Bill Benefits Help Veterans Take the Next Step in Their Careers
By Robert Linderman
Transitioning from the military to college can be challenging, at least it was for me. After completing my military service, I struggled with getting started on the next step toward fulfilling my education goals. I first enrolled in an online program, but the courses did not really interest me. I soon discovered that without excitement about the subject matter there was no motivation to continue. The only thing I was certain about is that I didn’t want to become one of those statistics about military veterans who don’t use their GI Bill benefits. So I took a new approach and started researching education opportunities in fields that really interested me. That’s when I discovered that I could use my GI Bill benefits to pay for flight training. Becoming a professional pilot, especially a helicopter pilot, had always appealed to me. The lifestyle of a helicopter pilot traveling to exotic locations and working with many different people in a variety of environments sounded interesting and challenging. As I began to learn more about career opportunities in this industry, I realized how diverse the possibilities were from aerial firefighting to scenic tours to search and rescue. The career paths were numerous and seemed to be ever expanding, as people discovered new ways helicopters could benefit their industry.
The opportunities available in this industry, and the fact that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has some great programs veterans can use to learn to fly after getting out of the military, made this the perfect career path for me. The newest benefit program is the Post-9/11 GI Bill; it’s for veterans who served after September 11, 2001. Depending on how much time you served after 9/11, the VA will pay for all or a percentage of your tuition and fees when attending a degree-granting school (college or university). If the college you attend is connected to a flight school, and the flight training costs are included in the college’s course fees, these costs will be paid for as well. If you already have some flight experience and want to get an additional certificate or rating, the Post-9/11 GI Bill also has a $10,330 per academic year benefit that can be used directly at a flight school, without going through the college program. This can be a good way to build time toward your Commercial Pilot Certificate, or get your Instrument Rating if you don’t already have it. The Montgomery GI Bill, for veterans who served before 9/11, offers a 60% reimbursement of flight training costs once you have your Private Pilot Certificate.
My first step was to begin researching flight schools and aviation programs to ensure that I picked an education leader and an institution with a history of supporting veterans and helping them become professional pilots. That’s when I discovered the aviation science program at Portland Community College (PCC) in Portland, Oregon. Through PCC’s program using my Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits, I could get an associate’s degree in aviation science and all the hours and certificates required to work as a professional pilot once I completed the program. Not only would the Department of Veterans Affairs cover these education and flight training expenses, I would also receive a basic housing allowance for living expenses and a stipend for books and supplies.
PCC contracts with a local flight school, Hillsboro Aviation, located at the Portland-Hillsboro and Portland-Troutdale airports. As I had already learned through my initial school research, Hillsboro Aviation is a well-known and respected flight school that offers flight training in both airplanes and helicopters. All of my enrollment and VA paperwork was completed at PCC, and I did all of my flight courses at Hillsboro Aviation. General education and other academic classes are taught at PCC.
The first step to enrolling in this program is to attend an aviation science orientation class at PCC. At this class, students learn more about the initial requirements for the program which include obtaining a second-class medical certificate and taking placement exams for the required classes to obtain the aviation science degree.
The aviation science program is broken down into four parts: private; instrument including some commercial training; advanced commercial training; and CFI and CFII. The first term students take a private course where they complete the flight training portion of the course at Hillsboro Aviation and ground portion at PCC. With the ground instruction from PCC and individual flight instruction at Hillsboro Aviation, students are well prepared to be safe private helicopter pilots.
Once the private course is completed, students move on to instrument training which includes some commercial flight training. During the instrument program, students will start transitioning into flying the Robinson R44. An Instrument Rating was not required in the industry only a few years ago, but now it is essential to secure the best jobs. After passing the instrument checkride, students focus on commercial training doing off-airport operations and scenarios to help prepare them for actual situations commercial helicopter pilots encounter. It was incredible landing at the hundreds of off-airport landing spots only minutes away from the Hillsboro Airport.
The next step is advanced commercial flight training. During this stage of the training, students have the option of taking external load and mountain flying courses, as well as an introduction to turbine helicopter flying.
The final step of the program is to get the Certified Flight Instructor (CFI) Rating. All ground training is done in a group setting with other CFI students. I found this to be incredibly helpful because in this group environment we all worked together to improve our teaching skills to make us the best flight instructors possible.
Upon completion of the program, I was hired for one of the many flight instructor positions at Hillsboro Aviation. Working as a Certified Flight Instructor is the first job for many pilots. I have worked for Hillsboro Aviation for nine months and gained a lot of valuable experience and training during my time as a CFI. Once I have the required hours, I hope to move on to a position in another part of the helicopter industry. My eventual goal is to become an IFR Captain flying to and from oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico. This is just one of the jobs available to experienced helicopter pilots. Once you acquire the necessary flight hours, you have a variety of career options. After working as a CFI, many pilots transition to flying sightseeing tours in the Grand Canyon or Alaska. Then after building experience in these commercial operations, pilots often transition to the offshore oil industry, aerial firefighting, air ambulance, power line and pipeline patrol, logging, border patrol and search and rescue operations. I am confident no matter what type of helicopter flying I do in the future, the PCC and Hillsboro Aviation program gave me the knowledge, skills and experience necessary to excel with the help and support of the VA and my GI Bill benefits.