While we’re all attending class on campus, there is a portion of the BSU population studying and perfecting the careful science of flying at least three times per week as part of their required coursework. Despite being one of the most exciting and interesting majors that Bridgewater has to offer, the Aviation program is not very well-known among students. So I interviewed my friend, Junior Donovan Lewis, to find out more.
Why BSU for Aviation?
If you’re like me, you were aware that BSU had Aviation as a major, but completely underestimated the scope of it. Our school is actually considered to have the leading University Aviation program in New England. There are a few other schools for flying in surrounding states, but Bridgewater is also the cheapest, which is very important for Aviation majors since they must pay for gas (sometimes for 5+ hours of flight) as well as the plane rental. Another advantage of the Bridgewater program is the New England weather and geography. The great variety of conditions gives students the preparation to fly under potentially less than ideal circumstances.
What kinds of preparation do Aviation majors do before flying?
Most of the students who sign up for the Aviation program have never had a flying lesson or, in some cases, even been on a plane before. Despite starting from scratch, students are immediately thrown into rigorous “ground school” courses and use computerized flight simulators at the Aviation Training Center in New Bedford.
Very early on, instructors fly with students out of the New Bedford Regional Airport, slowly giving less and less instruction. After about 12-15 lessons into the private pilot course, first semester Freshmen already fly solo for the first time in New Bedford. “The first solo is very simple,” says Donovan. “You just take off, fly in the traffic pattern, and land again, repeating this process three times. It’s pretty basic, and does a good job of letting you experience flying alone while staying in an environment you are familiar with.”
But just because they fly solo once, this does not mean that the preparation is over; to pass a course is a difficult experience, as everyone must complete about two “stage checks,” exams with both an oral and flight portion, each semester to pass. There are also all kinds of maps that are updated and changed a bit every month, air space regions each with different rules, and numerous procedures, acronyms, equipment, and radio frequencies, that need learning and memorization. Students must also take a separate Federal Aviation Association exam to show that they have all the knowledge that they need for a private pilot’s license, usually attained early in the Aviation major.
What is it like to fly?
“Flying was pretty terrifying in the beginning.” Donovan admits. “But now that I’ve done it so many times, I’m just used to it.”
One of the most important parts of flying is the use radio frequencies. When approaching busy air spaces such as Boston, and going at speeds of about 130 mph, students must use the radio so that they can be told to turn a certain number of degrees to the left or right, avoiding giant jets flying over the big city. If they ever run late, Aviation students must also inform Bridgewater dispatchers, who are always sitting at the radio desk.
Donovan has flown to Binghamton, New York, from New Bedford and back, about a 5-hour flight. Despite the long time lengths, it is also very important to keep focused on the instruments and equipment. As Donovan said, “Sometimes the whole plane is in a blanket, and you can’t see anything, like there is soup all around you. If you look outside, you’ll end up flying to the side without realizing it. So it’s important to keep looking at your instruments and noticing what will lead you astray.” Riding at night can also often give the false impression of illusions in the sky that aren’t really there, and it is easy to think that you are higher than you really are when you’re getting ready to land.
What is the best part about flying?
According to Donovan, that’s an easy question: “The views are simply spectacular.”