Montana State University

Into the blue: Students take off with new COT aviation program

February 3, 2006 -- by Carol Schmidt, MSU News


Drew Vanderhoff, a senior from Wenatchee, Wash. majoring Spanish, originally came to MSU to play football, but it is through a new aviation program that he is taking flight. Vanderhoff is one of about a dozen MSU students also enrolled in the popular new program offered through the MSU College of Technology-GF in Bozeman. MSU photo by Jay Thane.   High-Res Available

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There has never been a time that Drew Vanderhoff has not dreamed of flying.

"It's a passion I've always had," said the senior modern language major from Wenatchee, Wash., who originally came to MSU to play football for the Bobcats until derailed by an injury. "I would like to be paid to fly. That would be a great feeling."

Vanderhoff is helping his dreams get off the ground with a popular new program offered in Bozeman by Montana State University's sister school, the MSU College of Technology. The COT's aviation degree program debuted last semester. Already more than a dozen MSU students are taking to the air with the courses.

"The classes they offer are pretty amazing," said Vanderhoff, who is also enrolled in MSU's ROTC program and hopes to fly for the U.S. Army. Vanderhoff already had a private pilots' license before he enrolled but is now working on his instrument rating. He believes the COT aviation classes will help him with that and an eventual goal to be a commercial pilot in Alaska.

"It is definitely broadening my aviation background," he said. To see photos about Vanderhoff's experience flying with the COT classes, go to a slideshow by MSU photographer Jay Thane.

Vanderhoff is not alone. According to Ryan Haskins, director of aviation for MSU-COT, about half of the 24 students currently enrolled in classes are also students at MSU. This is the second semester for the program, which debuted with 19 students.

"We were surprised to have that many," Haskins said. "We would have been happy if we would have had half (that many) at the beginning."

Haskins said the program was rooted in popular pilot and ground-school classes offered through MSU's Extended Studies and Burns Technology Center taught by Ben Walton, owner of Summit Aviation in Bozeman.

Walton, a commercial pilot from Indiana who had moved to Bozeman to fly researchers over Yellowstone, said he began teaching the courses in 2000.

"By 2003, I had to decide whether to continue teaching (flying), or move on as a commercial pilot, so I bought an airplane to teach flying lessons," he said.

His students, which had grown to number about 50 by then, asked for expanded course offerings, such as instrument ratings. There are about 100 college aviation programs in the country and Walton approached MSU about the possibility of integrating the flight program. MSU officials told Walton that the program didn't fit into the university's offerings, but referred him to MSU-Great Falls, which was beginning to offer two-year technology courses in Bozeman. That's when the plan got off the ground, Walton said.

"We came up with a proposal and submitted it to the Montana Board of Regents, who passed it last year," Walton said.

Haskins, a flight instructor who had worked with Walton, was hired to direct the program and it has been in full-throttle since its inception. Walton obtained three more planes that COT students use, including state-of-the-art Diamond aircraft - two DA 20 Diamond Eclipses, with another on order, and a DA 40 Diamond Star.

Haskins said many of the MSU students taking the course are engineering students. But not all. Kevin Millard was an MSU film student who wants to combine flying and filmmaking. His first example is the COT aviation program's promotional video, which he made with fellow film student Ryan Kirk, a sophomore majoring in media and theatre arts. Millard is taking time off from his MSU degree this semester while he works to pay for flight time and takes COT aviation classes. He hopes to return to MSU courses next fall.

"Flying is not inexpensive," Millard said.

Haskins said the two-year course costs about $7,600, not including flight time. Students can rent aircraft for reduced rates, beginning at $99 an hour, depending on the plane they use. They are required to complete 250 hours in the air to earn the two-year degree. He estimates that students will need to spend a total of $32,000 to complete the program, which will prepare them for a career as a commercial pilot in any number of industries.

Vanderhoff, who will graduate in May from MSU, hopes to finish the aviation degree next winter prior to his commission in the Army. He is currently working on his instrument rating.

"This program allows me to get the ratings needed for others to pay me to fly," Vanderhoff said. And that is my ultimate dream."

For more information about the COT aviation technology program, contact Haskins at 994-6151 or go to the Website.

MSU photographer Jay Thane accompanied Vanderhoff on his first flight on a Diamond DA 40 and took this slideshow about the day in the life of a pilot.

Ryan Haskins, 994-6151