WMU News

WMU lands partnership that brings a 747 to College of Aviation

Feb. 4, 2000

KALAMAZOO -- The concept of hands-on learning in higher education will soar to new heights as an unusual classroom/laboratory arrived by air today at Western Michigan University's College of Aviation in Battle Creek, Mich.

The classroom is a Boeing 747-100B that was recently retired by Northwest Airlines and donated to the University for use in preparing future pilots and maintenance personnel for the airline industry. The move represents the first known gift of a 747 to any college or University.

"Western Michigan University has been the departure point for many Northwest Airlines careers," says Bill Wade, Northwest vice president for line maintenance operations, who was at the College of Aviation to present the aircraft to University personnel. "It's a pleasure to know that this aircraft, which safely and reliably carried passengers all over the world, will now be a valuable educational tool in the state of Michigan -- home to more than 11,000 of our employees."

Underscoring Wade's point was the scheduled appearance at a Battle Creek news conference today by Capt. Chris Blendernann, a 757 captain for Northwest and a 1977 graduate of WMU's aviation program. The event preceded the plane's arrival at the WMU facility.

The aircraft, built in 1970, is the 75th 747 built by Boeing and was retired by Northwest in October after some 9,400 hours of travel. WMU will use the plane in all of its aviation programs, giving aircraft maintenance and flight majors a hands-on laboratory in which to learn.

"Creating public-private partnerships is becoming a hallmark of our University," says WMU President Elson S. Floyd. "Just last fall, we forged our first domestic airline partnership with Northwest Airlink's Mesaba Airlines to put our graduates on the 'fast track' to careers as pilots. Now we are entering one of the most important new relationships in the college's history by partnering with one of the nation's premier domestic airlines."

Ingredients of the partnership are still being finalized, according to Floyd. They will include the development of maintenance internships with Northwest for WMU students as well as the development of continuing education and professional development programming for Northwest personnel. In addition, Northwest has committed to lending its name and resources to assist WMU in its student recruitment efforts.

The first part of the partnership agreement between Northwest and WMU will bring the classic 747 aircraft to WMU's state-of-the-art aviation training facilities and make it possible for students in its maintenance technology and maintenance management degree programs to learn about airframe and systems maintenance on a plane that has features common to those currently in production and use. Flight majors will be able to become familiar with the cockpit; practice flight procedures in a static, but realistic, setting; and have the opportunity to become familiar with the aircraft's systems.

The College of Aviation has already established a working group, comprised of flight and maintenance faculty, college operations personnel and staff members of the college's International Pilot Training Centre. That group has been charged with developing specific plans for transforming the 747 into a laboratory and research tool that can be used across the college's programs.

University aviation officials emphasize that the key advantage to having the plane on site is the opportunity students will have to actually experience and work with a plane that is identical in size and airframe to models currently in production.

"This is the real deal," notes Mark Serbenski, the college's operations manager. "We used to teach students about fire safety procedures for a plane like this on paper. Now we'll actually take them into the plane and have them run through those procedures in a real setting."

Tom Grossman, coordinator of flight instruction, and David Thomas of the college's international program agree that the 747 will give flight students an invaluable sense of familiarity with the type of aircraft they'll be flying in the future.

"When discussing systems, it will be immensely valuable to have an aircraft with these systems right at our doorstep," says Thomas. "We train on smaller aircraft, but this is ultimately the kind of aircraft our students are preparing to fly."

The 747-100 is regarded as a major technological achievement of the 20th century. Its debut was identified in 1999 as one of the most important events of the past 100 years and was commemorated with a U.S. Postal Service stamp. Only two other aviation achievements were so honored in the "Celebrate the Century" postal program -- the Wright brothers' first flight and Charles Lindbergh's 1927 Atlantic crossing. The plane is widely regarded as having revolutionized aviation by making intercontinental travel affordable. It was first introduced to commercial service in 1970, and Boeing delivered the last of its 747-100s in 1986.

The College of Aviation's roots date back to 1939 when the University first began aviation education. It became WMU's newest college in 1999. The fast-growing academic unit enrolls more than 600 undergraduates in four bachelor's degree programs. More than 100 cadet pilots are trained annually through the college's International Pilot Training Centre, which has such clients as Aer Lingus, British Airways and Emirates Airlines. The college also is home to the Sky Broncos precision flight team, which has placed in the top three in national competition for eight consecutive years and was the 1998 national championship team.

Media contact: Cheryl Roland, 616 387-8400, cheryl.roland@wmich.edu

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