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In October 2018, Joshua Barnes became the first FAA Certified Flight Instructor to graduate from Western Colorado Community College. Soon after, he started teaching on the very same tarmac he learned on.  

“You start day one not knowing anything about flying and then two years later you’re teaching,” said Barnes.

In two years, students earn four pilot licenses: Private, Instrument, Commercial and Certified Flight Instructor. They graduate with around 250 flight hours.

The Aviation Technology program at WCCC has taken off, reaching their capacity of 30 enrolled students with nearly a dozen on the waitlist, and as their facility continues to grow, so does the number of students they can take.

“The program is on its way to becoming a top flight school,” said Barnes. “Our area is perfect for training in. We have a towered airport right here so students can learn how to communicate in the beginning.”

He points out that the surrounding area is also a big plus for the program. In the first semester, students fly to Moab and Green River, and once they start their commercial training, 53 flight hours are solo cross country flights.

They fly to Rangely, Meeker and go as far south as New Mexico, to Farmington and Albuquerque.

“To fly above the San Juan National Forrest and over the La Sals is pretty special,” said Barnes. “I’ll never forget when I first flew to St. George. It was a 6 ½ hour flight there and back. The route goes over Lake Powell. It was really cool to see it from above.”

WCCC has three airplanes and three more are scheduled to arrive this month. And those aren’t the only new toys the program has received.

“We now have two FAA approve Redbird TD2 flight simulators that are an integral part of our aviation program,” said Interim Aviation Technology Program Director Dave Ashton. “They give us the capability to practice scenario-based flight training lessons, simulated equipment failure and emergency procedures not normally done in the aircraft.”

Ashton said the simulators provide a safe and effective training environment and teaches the soon-to-be pilots how to fly in all kinds of weather conditions.

In the fall of 2018, SkyWest partnered with WCCC’s Aviation Technology program, which provides mentorship for students and further validates the program.

“They came out here, looked at our curriculum and looked at how we are flying. They did an inspection and put their seal of approval on us,” said Barnes. 

The SkyWest Airlines Pilot Pathway Program partnership guarantees WCCC students a job interview and gets them in the door with seniority status.

Barnes wants prospective students to know the curriculum isn’t easy. “You have got to study and put a lot of effort into it,” said Barnes. “You get tested by the FAA for every license, you have to take written tests. It’s a lot of work. But we don’t send you to testing unless you’re ready.”

Eventually Barnes wants to go into medical transport and for that he needs about 2,000 flight hours and helicopter experience. He plans on continuing his aircraft training, but until then, he’s helping build up the program that got him started.

“It’s really cool watching someone go from zero to flying an airplane all by themselves and knowing it was you that helped them get there,” said Barnes.

Aviation Technology graduates can get a number of jobs right after graduation including instructing, skydiving pilot, banner towing and surveying. Add some multi-engine training hours and graduates can pilot planes involved in science research and data gathering. The possibilities are truly sky high.

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Written by Kelsey Coleman