Thursday, Sept. 21, 2023 |
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The University of Hawaii at Hilo’s new Aeronautical Science Program celebrated its first two graduates this year.
David Freedman and Trek Tanabe completed the Commercial Aerial Information Technology concentration, which focuses on the piloting of drones and unmanned aircraft systems, or UAS.
A third student, senior Kiana Burgher, is just a few credits shy of graduating from the technology concentration and participated in the commencement.
“I was so impressed by them. They’re all going to do well,” said program professor Marc Steinhilber of the first cohort. “Now, they have so much background from all the academics.”
Steinhilber is a retired naval aviator and commercial airline pilot for Delta with more than 30 years of experience. His leadership helped expand the program and navigate the turbulence caused by the novel coronavirus pandemic, which paused enrollment.
“We still have some juniors about to be seniors, but we hadn’t had anyone else because of COVID,” he said. “Now, we have a freshman class starting in the fall.”
The freshman will have access to two new state-of-the-art flight simulators to help with training, which is more cost-effective than taking multiple training flights.
“These kids are going to flight school that they’re paying for, so if they have to do extra flights, it gets quite expensive,” Steinhilber said. “Now, we have nine simulators. Two are the big ones, but we have seven other ones as well.”
Steinhilber uses his industry connections to secure guest speakers throughout the year, as well including air-traffic controllers, airport managers, airline pilots, jet pilots and mechanics, among others.
The next cohort will be much larger, with 21 juniors entering their senior year, all expected to graduate next year.
“I would like to see 50 per class,” Steinhilber said. “And maybe as we grow, up to 100 would be a longer-term goal.”
Program students undergo academic and simulator training for the first three years, then they select either the commercial pilot or drone concentration.
Even though the glamour of the commercial pilot program has made it more popular, Steinhilber said the future is in drones.
“Aerial information technology, there’s a huge future there,” he said. “They have agriculture uses like looking for pests, right now they have been mapping all the coral reefs of Hawaii with drones, you can do crop-dusting for a lot of the smaller farms, then in real estate when you’re looking for houses. There’s just so many uses.”
Freedman was one of the first students to enroll in the drone program and test out the new simulators. His knowledge of the equipment landed him a job as a simulator technician for the school.
“Simulators are as complex as real aircraft, with many moving parts, and are very complex, very easy to break,” Freedman said. “But they made a huge difference in the quality and the quantity of the flying we could do.”
Freedman recommends the program for any students interested in flying.
“Getting a four-year degree in aeronautics is going to set you up for greater potential for success than being an 18-year-old saying, ‘Oh, I’m going to go up and start learning how to fly,’” he said. “Right after the first class, you can start flying the simulators, and you’ll know pretty quick if it’s for you.”
Freedman initially graduated from the University of Southern California and worked in television production until he landed a job in Hilo leading a platform and springboard diving program.
“The aeronautics just sort of fell into my lap,” he said, noting his dad was a chaplain in the Air Force.
Freedman is now in the process of taking his final Federal Aviation Administration exam for his private pilot’s license and plans to combine his degrees to develop an aviation-centric television series.
“I’m going back to the university to start with my instrument training in the simulators,” he said. “And then I am developing a TV show on aviation for a major streaming platform.”
The experience of flying for Freedman was so inspiring he recommends the program to all those interested, and is excited to continue on with it himself.
“Eventually, you’ll start flying out of Hilo airport, and when the weather is nice, it’s one of the best places in the world to fly — waterfalls and volcanoes, the whales will wave at you as you fly over them,” he said. “Now, sky’s the limit.”
Enrollment for the program is open until July 1 at https://tinyurl.com/59vabhe5.
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