North Carolina community college’s aviation program takes off

Back when he was just 5, Zachary Harrell would race outside each time the local crop duster flew by his home in outside the little town of Seven Springs, N.C.

“He flew over my house purposely playing with me,” the teenager recalls. “It was from these roots that I knew I wanted to do something involving aeronautics.”

Zachary by one of the school’s training aircraft

As his days in high school came to a close, Zachary,  now 18, began researching schools to further his aviation ambitions, but found that many were out of his price range.

That’s when he stumbled upon Lenoir Community College’s Aviation Management and Career Pilot Technology Program.

“We were amazed how a little school in our own backyard had this program that fed the exact place I originally wanted to go,” Zachary said, noting the college’s proximity to his home and the program’s affordability made working toward his dream an achievable goal.

Based in Kinston, N.C., LCC offers a two-year degree in Aviation Management and Career Pilot Technology, as well as two diploma and four certificate programs. The program prepares students for a variety of aviation-related careers, including the airlines, general aviation, the military, and state and federal aviation organizations, according to Jeff Jennings, program chair.

“Established in 1970, the program is the only community college aviation program in eastern North Carolina,” said Jennings, who noted it is one of just three similar programs in the state.

According to Jennings, the program really took off last year when it acquired its first full-motion simulator, an FAA-approved Redbird FMX full-motion flight simulator.

Jennings now uses the simulator to help potential pilots earn up to 50 hours towards their certifications. He says that one of his favorite things about the simulator, which is located at the LCC Center for Aviation Education at the Kinston Regional Jetport (ISO), is the pause button.

“If a student isn’t getting something, I can just press pause, get out and work it out with them on the board,” he said. “You don’t have that option when you’re up in the air.”

Students Michael Alphin (left) and Josh O’Neal in the sim.

The simulator also provides a much more cost-effective way to get flight hours, he said, noting the sim costs just $75 per flight hour including instructor.

Jennings said the RedBird has the ability to immerse the student in four different types of aircraft, as well as different weather conditions. With its terrain and airport database information, students can take off and land from almost anywhere in the United States, he noted. Multiple monitors give the pilot more than a 200° view of their surroundings. The simulator’s all-electric platform helps provide a more realistic and consistent X, Y and Z-axis movement. “It pretty much covers everything,” Jennings said. “It’s a great piece of equipment.”

In addition to the simulator training, LCC Aviation students also receive flight training in a fleet of Piper Warriors. “The college’s flight training is handled at various flight schools, including Henley Aviation located right here at the Kinston Regional Jetport next to our aviation center so students can literally walk out of ground school instruction directly to his or her aircraft,” Jennings said.

“The program is designed to provide students with academic knowledge in the classroom and transfer that knowledge into the aircraft simultaneously,” he continued. “Hands-on flight training is paramount for professional and recreational pilot applicants.

After the completion of all flight training, students have earned three FAA certificates and/or ratings: Private Pilot, followed by the Instrument Rating, and finally Commercial Pilot.

The college also offers several online courses for students who cannot make the commute to Kinston, as well as personal computer aircraft training devices (PCATDs) which are similar to full motion simulators, Jennings said.

The many options offered by the school is appreciated by the students, according to Zachary.

“I love how the program is extremely personalized,” he said. “There are people from all backgrounds — military, fresh out of high school and even coming back to school to learn to fly and we all are treated with the utmost respect and compassion. Jeff Jennings ensures that everyone in the classroom thoroughly understands the subject before advancing to the next.”

That understanding is critical, according to Jennings, who realizes he is preparing his students for employers who are looking for people who can handle a great deal of pressure and responsibility. “Employers are also looking for someone who is competent, friendly and someone they can work with,” he said.

The aviation industry has changed over the past 10 years, Jennings noted. “The aircraft have much more automation, which means pilots can spend more time dealing with any tasks at hand and less time on mundane tasks. We have also seen more training being done with simulators than real aircraft during the last 10 years. GPS has become more predominate in training pilots as well.”

For Zachary, who has almost completed his first semester in the program toward earning his private pilot certificate, flying commercially is the ultimate goal. “I’d like to travel the world and get paid for it,” he said.

Not sure where his first job will be after graduation, he’s looking into joining the military to advance his flight training. “I believe that the Air Force is looking like the most likely place I’ll be,” he said.

For more information: 252-522-1735,

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