Vets Getting Back to What They Love
SAN ANTONIO – It’s the start of the fall semester,
and on a cloudy morning, John Aken, lead aviation instructor at Palo Alto
College, teaches the dynamics of propellers to full classroom overlooking a
runway at the Stinson Airport. Aken, an Army veteran who began working for the College
over five years ago, has helped revitalize its aviation department into a sought-after
program for veterans.
As the only public higher education institution in
a 40-mile radius offering an aviation program, students can earn an Associate
of Applied Science in Aviation Management or Professional Pilot as well as a
variety of certificate options.
“Vets come here because this a 141-tiered college,
meaning your GI dollars are able to go further,” said Aken, who is teaching
four courses this semester ranging from Intro to Aviation to Human Factors in Aviation.
Aside from being a lead instructor, Aken is also
an advisor. Before students enter his classroom, Aken meets with each
prospective student to ensure the program is a right fit for them and offers
advice on navigating military educational benefits.
“I’m going to say 80 to 85 percent, if not almost
90 percent, of students are vets,” said Jennifer Rodriguez, senior secretary of
Aviation Technology, who is also enrolled in the program. “Since the GI Bill
will pay for flight training, they come and get training here.”
While many current student veterans have been on
the frontlines of war and stationed all across the world, some have had
previous experience operating behind the wheel of an aircraft.
Tim Witt, a U.S. Air Force veteran who has been
flying for 35 years, is currently enrolled in the program and hoping to one day
earn his certification to become a commercial pilot.
“I was a weapons system officer and flew F1
elevens,” said Witt. “If you go to a [private] flight school, the GI BILL pays
like 60 percent. At Palo Alto [College], the post GI BILL basically pays 100
percent of the cost. So Palo Alto is a very cost effective way of getting your
private pilots license.“
Nearly all aviation program-specific classes are
held at the historic Stinson Municipal Airport, the second oldest continuously
operating airport in the country. Expanded in 2008, the airport houses
everything from helicopter tours, law enforcement aircrafts, and the Palo Alto
College Aviation Technology department.
Comprised of state of the art training equipment,
students get hands on experience using simulators and learn in classrooms
overlooking the historic Stinson Municipal Airport runway.
One thing that both students and instructors say students
must have in order to be successful in the aviation program is a passion for
“When you think of pilots, you think of glamour
and Top Gun, but it’s much more than that. People’s lives are on the line. You
have to really love flying and take it seriously,” said Rodriguez.
For more information about the Aviation Technology
program at Palo Alto College, visit alamo.edu/pac or call (210) 593-6886.