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DSU partners with Army to offer helicopter training

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Delaware State University DSU helicopter

Michael Casson, dean of DSU’s College of Business, State Treasurer Colleen Davis, Brig. Gen. Amanda I Azubuike, DSU President Tony Allen, past DSU President Wilma Mishoe, and Lt. Col. (Ret.) Michael Hales, director of the University’s Aviation Program, pose in front of one of the choppers that will be used as part of the new Helicopter Training Program at DSU. | PHOTO COURTESY OF DSU

DOVER – Delaware State University’s historic aviation program is expanding with the recent announcement of a new helicopter flight training option coming this fall.

A partnership with the U.S. Army is supporting the addition of helicopter training that will begin with a group of ROTC students in the fall of 2023 and later expand to undergraduate students in the university’s aviation program.

“The fact they came here looking for those students is a big testament to how much in-demand our students are,” said retired Lt. Col. Michael Hales, Delaware State University’s Aviation Program director. “We look at that as a very big deal.”

The partnership also means full funding from the Army to cover that first group of students’ tuition, books and flight lab fees. Hales said the training will take students about five semesters, and the first cohort will include up to 10 cadets. Other undergraduate students will be able to enroll the following fall.

“The establishment of your Helicopter Flight Training Program is not only a momentous moment for the University, but it signifies a new avenue of opportunity for future aviators across the nation,” said Brig. Gen. Amanda Azubuike during an April 20 event announcing the expansion. “This flight program is just the start in a national movement to create additional opportunities at historically Black college and universities across the country.”

Delaware State University was one of the first HBCUs — then known as the State College for Colored Students — to offer flight training for Black students starting in 1939 with its civilian pilot training program. The following year, that program was consolidated at the Tuskegee Army Air Field, made famous for training the Tuskegee Airmen.

Today’s program at DSU includes 26 aircrafts, which is more than any other HBCU program, according to the university’s spokesman. In recent years, the aviation program has grown significantly, to a class of 140 students enrolled last fall, Hales said. He said 100% of students pursuing professional pilot majors fly with a regional airline within a year of graduating.

Hales said the addition of the helicopter training program makes DSU more versatile and offers students more choices in a high-demand industry. He also hopes it opens the door to offering a summer flight academy focusing on helicopters — which was his specialty during his own career — like is offered currently to junior ROTC students interested in flying airplanes.

The university has contracted New Jersey-based Ascent Aero to provide the training with its Cabri G2 helicopters at Delaware Airpark. The university will provide several new helicopter pads at the site as part of the agreement, according to university officials.

Students pursuing the new helicopter training will have the option of earning the following certificates, officials said: Private pilot, instrumentation rating, commercial and instructor ratings.

“I think we can help put more pilots into professional flying positions, just like we’re doing on the airplane, or fixed-wing, side,” Hales said. “When that begins to happen, we’ll be in a position where we won’t have to recruit. Folks will be coming to us.”

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