USU Aviation program expands, purchasing helicopters from Mountain Ridge Helicopters

For nearly 80 years Utah State University has been providing flight training programs. As planes and aviation technology have evolved since then, so has USU’s approach to preparing students for a career in the skies.

“We’ve had a relationship down at the airport since 1939 training pilots,” says Bruce Miller, Department Head of the School of Applied Sciences, Technology and Education at <a href=”” target=”_blank”>USU</a>. “We’ve grown into a spot in the last few years that we also started training helicopter pilots.”

In 2013 the university began a partnership with private flight school Mountain Ridge Helicopters at the Logan-Cache Airport. USU leased the equipment from Mountain Ridge Helicopters and contracted with their instructors to provide some of the training for Aggie students.

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Now, that relationship has evolved as the helicopters have been sold to the university and the instructors are now USU employees.

“We’ve been doing helicopter training for the last four years,” Miller explains “and just this last fall we acquired the helicopters to do our own in-house training for rotorcraft.”

The total fair market value for the helicopters, hangars and other associated tools and equipment is currently being assessed by certified appraisers. Miller says the total cost of the purchase has not yet been finalized.

He says the relationship with Mountain Ridge Helicopters and USU has been a good one. They are located next to each other at the airport and the efficiencies of combining both a fixed wing program with a helicopter program makes a lot of sense for the university.

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“It just evolved to that place where Mountain Ridge was ready to sell their helicopters. So we purchased them so we can continue training students that are our students,” Miller continues. “Students were in the program, they will continue in the program and it basically was a seamless transition based on whether the equipment was leased or owned.”

Seven helicopters are being purchased and Miller says there were nine full and part-time employees that were associated with the program previously. Most of those employees will continue to do what they’ve always done, only now they will do it as USU employees. 

Approximately 40 students participate in the helicopter training program each year. Miller says those are special students because of the time and financial commitment the program requires. He says the “ballpark” figure for training a helicopter pilot approaches $100,000, and that is in addition to the regular tuition and fees a student will need to pay for his or her degree.

“All of the professional pilots, whether fixed wing or helicopters, they are a different bread of student because the investment to be in that profession is very great,” he explains. “They are usually very focused and come here specifically for that program.”

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Miller says many of the students will have had some kind of triggering event in their lives that made them want to become a pilot, like taking a helicopter ride as a tourist over the Grand Canyon, Hawai’i or Las Vegas. And then they focus on achieving the goal of becoming a pilot, themselves.

“When the students come here we don’t have a lot of students switching in and out of the major because of the financial commitment required,” Miller explains. “Most of that comes earlier. Your private licenses are your most expensive, whether it’s airplanes or helicopters, so once they start that process in their first semester they’re usually committed for the long term.”

Miller says those students go on to do a wide variety of work as helicopter pilots and he sees an upside for USU in providing the training.

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“We see a big demand in industry whether it’s for delivering goods and services out to oil rig platforms, to setting towers for ski resorts to checking utility lines,” Miller explains. “The helicopter pilots are in demand as well so we believe we are in a good position to provide that training and support that industry with commercial pilots.”

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