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Embry-Riddle Highlights Helicopter Program at Octoberwest

Posted 8 years 214 days ago ago by jhadmin

By Mike Coligny - On October 5th throughout the night Prescott, AZ was experiencing its first fall/winter storm. The wind was howling and the rain was pelting as I was woken from a sound sleep by the horrific noise. I wondered if Embry-Riddles’ career fair, OctoberWest, would be able to take place that morning. As it turns out the storm departed, the sun rose on what would turn out to be a glorious day. OctoberWest is Embry-Riddle’s annual homecoming event, and in addition to the Career Expo, invites Alums and industry partners to participate in numerous campus activities and celebrations.

By 8:30 AM, following the OctoberWest signs, led to an open baseball field in which a UH-60 Blackhawk, an MD902 and an EC-130 along with a couple of Robinson’s, one R22 and one R44 were prominently on display. The indoor exhibit area was adjacent and there appeared to be as many as 100 aviation companies in attendance. Embry-Riddle’s Career Fair drew the top 100 Aerospace, Aviation and Air Transport companies in the Nation including such names as United, Delta, and American Airlines.

Rotorcraft Professional was invited by Embry-Riddle to attend and cover the event, and as I live 4 minutes away the job fell to me.

First Impressions

The Prescott 500 acre Embry-Riddle campus including the Academic Building, sometimes referred to as the Starship Enterprise Building is beautiful. It was easy to see why crowds were drawn immediately to the display helicopters. Embry-Riddle has a number of aviation supporters that include: Papillion/Grand Canyon Helicopters, MD Helicopters, Night Flight Concepts, and a local flight school, Universal Helicopters that acts as the flight training arm for the Professional Helicopter Program.      

Embry-Riddles Academic Building Image Here

Embry-Riddles Helicopter Program

Assistant Professor Bryan Cox works within Embry-Riddle’s Department of Aeronautical Science.  He teaches Advanced Helicopter academic courses as well as other courses including Turbine Engines.  He is a retired Army Guard helicopter instructor pilot with additional experience in Part 135 Fixed Wing operations.   The helicopter program at Embry-Riddle started about 5 years ago and has now grown into a full scale program that offers students a Bachelor’s Degree in Aeronautical Science with a specialty in Helicopters.  You immediately sense the passion he has for the program, for he spent the better part of an hour enthusiastically briefing HAI’s Director of Safety, Stan Rose and myself on its attributes.
The Embry-Riddle helicopter program falls within the College of Aviation and was developed to prepare students with the knowledge and skills necessary to become professional helicopter pilots. By the end of their junior year at Embry-Riddle most students will have obtained a Commercial Certificate and CFII rating. Once students reach the commercial level of flight training, they meet prerequisites for the four Advanced Courses within the Helicopter Specialty Program. The Advanced Courses are the real differentiator when it comes to training programs in the industry. It is broken up into four separate courses. State of the art classrooms enhance this learning experience.

The first course in the series is “Environmental Helicopter Operations”. In this course students obtain the foundation for helicopter operations in varying environmental conditions.  The students are introduced to aspects particular to helicopter flight as it pertains to adverse weather including day, night, and Night Vision Goggle (NVG) operations.  Emphasis is placed on understanding aeromedical  principles as they pertain to helicopter operations, personal and professional stress and fatigue issues, and flight considerations when operating  in and around mountains, artic, jungle , desert, and overwater environments.  The students also receive ground instruction on NVG operations in accordance with the ground training requirements outlined in FAR Part 61.31(k). Supporting Embry-Riddle on the NVG course is Night Flight Concept’s NVIO™ NVG Computer Based Training program.

The second course in the series is “helicopter flight planning”. Flight planning using an E6B or handheld computer is not what this course is about; instead the student obtains the foundation for the FARs as they relate to aircraft certification, long line operations and aerial application.  Additionally it focuses on the operational planning for different helicopter missions including long line, ENG, EMS, law enforcement, and tour operations.  The students then have to develop and present a plan(s) on what is necessary to run each type of operation from a practical standpoint; what resources are required, how do you staff, risk management considerations, etc.   As part of an Embry-Riddle/Papillion “bridge” program, students are exposed to Operations Specifications from a real world Part 135 operation.  The Papillion Operations Specifications Manual allows students to gain valuable knowledge which is very useful as they enter the job market.  In addition to supporting Embry-Riddle’s academic courses, the Embry-Riddle/Papillion “bridge” program provides student internships that can lead to a Professional Pilot position once prerequisite flight minimums are met.  The course also addresses cargo planning for internal and/or external loads and communications procedures for internal and external operations.

The third course in the series is “Advanced Helicopter Systems and Functions”. The foundation for the first part of this course is Shawn Coyle’s book, “Cyclic & Collective”.  During this course, students study the principles and functions of advanced helicopter systems with an emphasis on automatic flight control systems and associated pilot interface mechanisms, power and rotor systems, avionics, environmental systems, and structures.  Upon completing a general study of advanced systems theory, students then apply the general knowledge learned into an actual real world application using the MD 902 as the model.  MD Helicopters supports this program by allowing students’ access to all MD technical and flight manuals. With a foundation set by using Coyle’s book, practical application using the MD902 model offers students a unique understanding.  MD further supports this course by hosting class field trips to the factory which allows their studies to take on form and substance.

Lastly the “Advanced Helicopter Systems and Functions” course is completed with the help of another EMBRY-RIDDLE supporter, Universal Avionics of Tucson, AZ.  Universal Avionics has provided Embry-Riddle with advanced FMS training software, utilizing their flight management system, the UNS-1. The students get hands on training with practical application of a real flight management system.  In a special airway science classroom for which each student operates the FMS trainer, the students receive instruction and operate the FMS under various scenarios. While it is not intended make anyone an expert, it does give them exposure to a very complicated piece of equipment that will eventually become a part of their professional helicopter pilot career.

The fourth and final course within in the Advanced Helicopter series is “Advanced Helicopter Operations”.  This is considered the capstone course within the helicopter specialty degree program.  According to Professor Cox, it was designed by Professor JD DiRienzo, a Vietnam veteran who holds an MBA in Finance and served as the Timex Corporation’s director of flight operations for 30+ years.  It is modeled as a graduate level class and incorporates case studies that result in students developing business feasibility plans.   During this course, the student obtains the foundation for advanced and specialized commercial helicopter operations.  The students are introduced to specific areas of flight operations such as Long Lines, EMS, Electronic News Gathering, Corporate, Off- Shore, and Federal and Municipal Law Enforcement.  Emphasis is placed on developing a safe and competent pilot who is adequately prepared for flight operations in these areas, and can assume the duties of any managerial position.  The students receive training in standard operating, safety and training procedures, aircraft selection, operating and capital budgets, aircraft purchasing and leasing agreements, and an understanding of maintenance requirements to include maintenance tracking, spare parts inventory, and record keeping.

At the beginning of the course, students choose one of six case studies for which they develop a formal business feasibility plan.  They must prove that the case study is viable and can succeed.  Everything from aircraft selection, financial resources, acquisition strategies (buy or lease), best practices, systems installed, safety, and management structure must be analyzed and included in the proposal.  In addition to developing the written feasibility plan, the students must conduct a formal presentation to their leadership.  The plan must be complete, comprehensive and sold to the CEO (Instructor and invited industry guests).  This capstone course allows the student to combine all their academic education and flight training into a real world scenario that incorporates all aspects of a typical commercial helicopter operation.

It is no wonder that it was just reported that Embry-Riddle graduates starting salaries are among highest in the nation according to payscale.com, an industry authority. It is safe to say that this curriculum helps achieve that distinction.


I wanted to get the students perspective of Embry-Riddle so I arrange to spend some time with Cody Hart a senior and part-time CFI/II and Celeste Hadley, a sophomore and Private/Instrument helicopter private pilot working on her Commercial License. Both are enrolled in the Bachelors of Aeronautical Science Degree Program with a specialty in Helicopters. The goal for both Celeste and Cody interestingly was the same; to go to work for CAL-FIRE. Talk about focused; Celeste is only 19 years old!

I wanted to get the students take on the overall program so I asked what they saw as the benefits after graduation.  I was surprised and delighted by the answers. Celeste led off and Cody re-enforced the response, which was; “there is a tremendous advantage when entering the highly competitive helicopter pilot environment after graduating from Embry-Riddle. We graduate as true professionals. For example, if a potential employer wants to discuss turbine-engines, we are fully capable because our turbine engines course provided a deep/thorough understanding of turbine engines.  Furthermore, our systems courses give us advanced instruction in hydraulics, avionics, and airframes.  Under this program and with the alliances in place with Papillion and MD Helicopters, graduates understanding transcends pure academic and moves into practical application. When you couple that with courses that focus on different helicopter operations and their associated environments like EMS, Tour, Long-line, etc., the Embry-Riddle graduate enters the work force way ahead of the power curve. What this means to the potential employer is less time to train and mentor the new hire”. Cody finished up by explaining that “the graduates have the ability to speak to potential employers, managers and senior pilots with authority because they know the language, have the technical knowledge and the understanding of the operational environment”. Lastly they mentioned the numerous programs and events they attend like OctoberWest and the Heli Success career seminar next month in Las Vegas.

Why Prescott? Both Celeste and Cody appreciate the smaller campus/city atmosphere. The size and location promotes a close student culture on campus where supporting each other, friendships and camaraderie exists; and as Celeste said, “we get it and know what is important”.

My last stop was a short visit with Dr. Frank Ayers, the Chief Academic Officer and Executive Vice President.
Dr. Ayers a 26 year AF veteran has travelled the world-over and finds Prescott, AZ a great place to live. “It is especially a good place to learn how to fly. As a high density, mountain environment airport it affords the student challenges that will fare them well once they leave the area”.

I asked Dr. Ayer’s about the helicopter program only to find out that his first four months at Embry-Riddle, Prescott campus, was spent putting the helicopter program in place which included a contract to Universal Helicopters as their flight training provider.

He is quite proud of the program and is confident that the standard for the helicopter pilots in the future is going to move more and more toward the college educated pilot. The Embry-Riddle culture of safety first, coupled to a unique understanding of the helicopter industry, makes Embry-Riddle graduates sought after candidates for employment.

According to Dr. Ayers, Embry-Riddle provides the future leaders and managers in the helicopter industry. My experience at the Career Expo where more than 100 employers had set up booths validates Dr. Ayer’s statements. It was interesting to hear Dr. Ayers explain how the school attracts the best students and describe his graduates as professionals which, as you heard from students earlier, filters down from the top to Embry-Riddles newest incoming class! That is quite an achievement.

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