Up in the sky: Inside the high-flying lives of student pilots

Students of Baylor's aviation sciences program are promised a four-to-one plane-to-student ratio, giving them plenty of opportunities to get their flying hours in. Photo Courtesy of Noah Dunbar

By Jacob Boone | Staff Writer

For a select group of Baylor students, class isn’t always in a room on campus — it may be on one of 28 planes operating out of a private hangar at the airport.

“Baylor has probably the fastest flight program in the nation right now,” Spring junior and aviation sciences major Noah Dunbar said. “Basically, you are guaranteed a certificate every semester if you follow the curriculum. … When they created the program, there was a lot of doubt that it would be possible to do that in three years, but I’ve been here three and have five certificates now.”

One of the factors behind the success of the program is the notable student-to-plane ratio. When Edmund, Okla., sophomore Whit Freiberg applied, the program took about 35 students per class. After dropouts and transfers, there end up being around 140 on campus at a time.

“They promise us a four-to-one plane-to-student ratio,” Freiberg said. “The reason other flight schools aren’t as accelerated is because they don’t have enough planes. At Baylor, I could fly every day if I wanted to.”

Green and gray uniforms make the squadron of pilots easy to spot on campus, particularly near Cashion Academic Building, where a majority of aviation classes take place. However, most of their time is spent 20 minutes away on the other side of Lake Waco, where aviation students take lessons in ground instruction and fly out of Waco Regional Airport.

“The flight school is technically a third party,” Dunbar said. “Baylor has a contract with the flight school Universal Flight Concepts. They work together to create the aviation sciences major.”

Freshmen and sophomores in Baylor’s aviation program guide students to earn their private pilot’s license, instrument rating and commercial pilot’s license. Typically, students fly around 60 hours a semester, inching closer to the 1,000 hours of flight needed to be hired by an airline.

Dunbar just finished his Certified Flight Instructor — Instrument certification, which is the last thing students need before they can start the interview process to earn a spot as a part-time instructor at Baylor. Continued success will see Dunbar in a full-time position until he has enough hours to go to an airline.

After ground instruction, junior and senior students can choose electives like airport and aviation management, aerodynamics, aviation administration and aviation leadership.

“In general, it’s a lot bigger commitment than it looks,” Dunbar said. “What seems like one class can sometimes turn into five trips to the airport a week. Every time you’re there, that’s another two hours.”

On top of that, aviation students must adhere to strict regulations set by the Federal Aviation Administration regarding substance use and medical conditions. If a pilot is looking to take any medication, they have to go to the FAA website to figure out if it is approved or not.

“Flying is a privilege. It can be taken away really at any moment. There are a lot of things that have to go right for you to fly,” Freiberg said. “People like to say that the FAR AIM [Federal Aviation Regulation’s Aeronautical Information Manual] is written in blood because it was made from a lot of people’s mistakes. The rules in there are the result of 100 years of aviation. If you stick to those, you are going to be OK.”

Jacob Boone is a Sophomore from Austin, with majors in Finance and Accounting. An Eagle Scout and Junior Spike-ball national champion, he loves the outdoors and is always hungry for competition. After graduation you will find him far away from his comfort zone.