A nearly half-million-dollar investment in eastern Kentucky will bring hands-on experience with Eastern Kentucky University’s highly touted aviation program directly to students in EKU’s service region.
The purchase of two dozen virtual reality flight simulators, to be placed throughout the Appalachian region, is being made possible with a nearly $360,000 grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission. A matching grant from the university of more than $98,000 brings the total amount of the project to $453,000.
The flight simulators will be used at high schools, EKU regional campuses at Manchester and Corbin, and at regional training centers. Strategic locations will provide coverage to allow larger population exposure.
“This federal investment in our aviation program will take Eastern’s aviation expertise into the service region so the next generation can make Kentucky a leader in this growing field,” said Dr. David McFaddin, interim EKU president. “As we continue to look at ways to diversify the regional economy, Eastern will continue to lead with our unique educational programming offerings, like aviation.”
High school, community college and regional campus instructors and support staff will be trained on how to use the simulation virtual reality (VR) technology in a train-the-trainer/teach-the-teacher model. This training provides students with the opportunity to repeat lessons until mastered and will translate seamlessly into real, hands-on aircraft training and exposure for high school students who may be interested in a career in aviation, aviation maintenance or other STEM career paths.
“As the university continues to build strategic partnerships that affect the economies in Kentucky’s Appalachian counties, Eastern’s aviation programs will continue to be top of mind,” said Dr. Melissa Newman, executive director of regional programming and regional stewardship. “As one of the fastest growing job sectors – with higher-paying jobs – we are seeking to make Kentucky the aviation leader.”
The flight simulators will serve 21 counties, most of which are designated “distressed” economically. The simulators will help develop and support career-specific education and skills training for students and workers, especially in sectors that are experiencing growth locally and regionally and that provide opportunities for advancement.
“The EKU Aviation program will work with secondary schools to share state-of-the-art virtual reality flight training technology that will prepare the next generation of aviation professionals,” said Dr. Tim Ross, chair of EKU’s Department of Applied Engineering and Technology/Aviation. “The virtual reality simulation will provide a seemingly real flight experience without leaving the ground. This is an exciting project with the goal of designing a training model that can be delivered across the state.”
EKU recently announced its new Aviation Maintenance Technician (AMT) Program. While this grant is unrelated, the simulator expansion will complement the AMT program.